UNHCR chief discusses southern Africa with Lesotho leader

News Stories, 10 June 2008

© UNHCR/S.Hopper
High Commissioner Guterres and Lesotho Prime Minister Mosisili look at UNHCR's Nobel Peace Prize medals.

GENEVA, June 10 (UNHCR) UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres and Lesotho Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili met in Geneva on Tuesday and discussed the situation in South Africa, including a recent wave of xenophobic attacks on foreigners.

The two men, during a wide-ranging discussion in the Geneva headquarters of the UN refugee agency, also discussed UNHCR's operations in the region and the emerging role of regional bodies, such as the South African Development Community (SADC), in addressing the growing challenge of mixed migration and contributing to stability in the region.

On the subject of South Africa, Guterres stressed that the recent wave of xenophobic attacks were the result of extreme poverty. "In such situations scapegoats are often foreigners, including refugees and asylum seekers," Guterres said. "But xenophobia is not specific to South Africa it is a global problem and we see it also in some developed countries," he added.

Attacks during a two-week period last month left some 60 people dead, according to police, and tens of thousands of foreigners homeless around the country. UNHCR condemned the violence and immediately responded to this crisis. The High Commissioner stressed that his office in Pretoria continues to work closely with the South African government, helping it to meet the immediate humanitarian needs of the victims.

Following the meeting, Mosisili visited UNHCR's Emergency Operations Room, where he was briefed on the agency's emergency response capacities and the ability to almost instantly deploy staff and resources where needed such as in recent natural disasters in Myanmar and China.

UNHCR staff also briefed the Prime Minister on a first UNHCR layer in the innovative Google Earth programme. This powerful online mapping tool provides an up-close and multifaceted view of some of the world's major displacement crises and the humanitarian efforts aimed at helping the victims.