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UNHCR deeply concerned about xenophobic violence in South Africa

Briefing notes

UNHCR deeply concerned about xenophobic violence in South Africa

23 May 2008

UNHCR remains deeply concerned about the xenophobic attacks against foreigners in South Africa, including refugees and asylum seekers who fled to South Africa seeking protection from persecution in their own countries.

So far, estimates are that more than 17,000 people, including refugees and asylum seekers, have been displaced and dozens have been killed over the past two weeks. We are present on the ground and have been assessing the needs at the sites near police stations where the displaced have gathered. On Wednesday, we conducted the first distribution of blankets and mats to the survivors. Additional blankets were released from our emergency stocks yesterday.

We remain in close contact with the South African government to see what further assistance UNHCR can provide.

Reports from our monitoring teams show that a very large percentage of those displaced by the xenophobic violence are Zimbabweans. They include people who came to South Africa to seek asylum. They urgently need both assistance and protection. While thousands of Mozambicans are reportedly streaming home, many Zimbabweans cannot consider returning home due to the well know situation in their country.

A significant number of Zimbabweans have genuine international protection needs. Those who are seeking asylum should have access to the national asylum procedures in South Africa and other neighbouring countries - and elsewhere in the world, for that matter. Zimbabweans who are refugees should be recognised as such. UNHCR provides support and advice for national asylum systems throughout Southern Africa, and we are prepared to expand these efforts.

UNHCR has previously encouraged the South African authorities to suspend the deportation of Zimbabweans to their country. UNHCR is also urging South Africa to exceptionally grant to Zimbabweans the possibility to regularize their stay in the country, an option which is foreseen in national legislation. Recent events in South Africa, as well as in their own country, are once again highlighting just how vulnerable this group is, making acting on UNHCR's appeal even more urgent today.

UNHCR pledges its continued support to the South African authorities in strengthening the national asylum system and in all efforts ensuring protection to refugees and asylum seekers presently in the country. There are presently more then 125,000 registered refugees and asylum seekers in South Africa, coming from a wide variety of countries.