UNHCR concern at xenophobic violence in South Africa

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

In South Africa, xenophobic attacks over the last three weeks have killed six people and displaced over 5,000 foreign nationals, including refugees and asylum-seekers in the eastern province of KwaZulu-Natal. The attacks began in late March following an apparent labour dispute involving South African and foreign workers. They are on top of displacement that took place in January as a result of similar incidents in Soweto, near Johannesburg in Gauteng Province. UNHCR is extremely concerned. We have welcomed the response by the Government in trying to contain the situation and provide assistance to those who have had to flee their homes.

A UNHCR team has been sent to Durban to assess the situation and identify where the organization can support government and civil society partners in their response. The displaced foreign nationals are grouped in four tented shelters for displaced persons established by the local Disaster Management Centre. The number needing shelter is said to be increasing. The first group has been moved to a sports centre in Chatsworth that now shelters around 1,400 people, mostly single men, with few families. The men are separated from the women and children. In Isipingo, there are nearly 300 people and in Greenwood Park another 450. Yesterday, 1,500 displaced people were moved to a new and larger site in Phoenix. Conditions in the community shelters are very basic and more needs to be done to ensure adequate sanitation and health facilities. In addition, a number of people have sought refuge in mosques, churches and other buildings.

UNHCR has been contacted by refugees who are in fear of being targeted. People are also very anxious about not being able to earn a living and the loss of their livelihoods. We would like to underscore that those affected in these xenophobic attacks are refugees and asylum-seekers who were forced to leave their own countries due to war and persecution. They are in South Africa because they require protection.

The Government of South Africa has spoken out against these incidents. It has pledged to do it all it can to protect foreign nationals in the country and reaffirmed its commitment toward refugees and asylum-seekers in line with international law and protocols.

South Africa currently hosts some 65,000 refugees and 295,000 asylum seekers.

For more information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Geneva, Adrian Edwards: +41 79 557 91 20
  • In Geneva, Karin de Gruijl: +41 79 255 9213
  • In Pretoria, Tina Ghelli: +27 82 7704189