South Africa: UN helps foreigners uprooted by xenophobic violence go home

27 August 2008
Foreigners displaced in xenophobic violence in South Africa

The United Nations is assisting foreigners displaced by xenophobic violence which swept South Africa earlier this year to return to their home countries.

The violence – which also targeted asylum-seekers from such places as Zimbabwe, Somalia and Ethiopia, as well as ethnic minorities – claimed dozens of lives and left tens of thousands more homeless.

Officials in Gauteng province had planned to shut six temporary camps housing 6,000 displaced people this month, but those plans have been put on hold by the country’s Constitutional Court.

“Between the uncertainty surrounding the closure of the temporary shelters and the inability or reluctance of refugees to reintegrate into local communities, the preferred solution for a growing number of them is to return to their countries of origin,” said Pamela Msizi, a UNHCR protection assistant.

On 18 August, the agency helped fly 46 Congolese and six Burundians to their home countries. Another group of 23 Congolese and nine Burundians will be repatriated next month, and others have applied to return home.

As long as the countries of origin are safe to return to, UNHCR stands ready to help with voluntary repatriation from South Africa, home to more than 128,000 registered refugees and asylum-seekers.

Muchipayi Jim Comoda, who fled his native Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) seven years ago, escaped his home in South Africa’s Bezuidenhout Valley after being beaten up by armed gang members.

He said UNHCR’s programme increased his desire to return to his hometown of Lubumbashi. “It’s better than going back to a community that doesn’t want you.”

Mr. Comoda had worked as a trader to support his wife and nine children. “These attacks have undone all that,” he said, expressing his hesitation at the South Africans’ assurances that it is safe for displaced foreigners to reintegrate back into the country’s communities.

Noting that he understands that the violence was perpetrated by only a few and not the majority of South Africans, he nonetheless said that his future lies in the DRC.


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