The United Nations refugee agency is supporting efforts to combat xenophobia in South Africa, where tens of thousands fled their homes last year after a wave of attacks on foreigners.
The Government estimates that some 45,000 people were uprooted and 62 killed after tensions between South Africans and foreigners – mainly Africans, and including refugees and asylum-seekers – erupted into violence last May.
Many of those who were attacked – a large percentage of them being Zimbabweans – had originally moved to South Africa to escape persecution in their own countries, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Although the situation has calmed down since then, fears of fresh violence remain.
UNHCR is assisting the Government and independent humanitarian organizations, such as the Nelson Mandela Foundation (NMF) in their efforts to combat the xenophobia.
The NMF has launched a two-year strategy to help promote peaceful co-existence between South Africans and foreigners and to look at the root causes of last year’s violence.
The initiative includes meetings where people living in mixed nationality communities can come together to discuss the challenges they face while at the same time looking for sustainable solutions. The NMF will facilitate 30 such dialogues in five provinces, targeting areas worst affected by xenophobia, such as Alexandra Township in Johannesburg and Langa Township in Cape Town.
The organization has invited UNHCR, which has long opposed xenophobic behaviour in South Africa, to sit on its steering committee and help implement the plan. The agency will also provide financial and technical support.
“Initiatives of this nature are to be welcomed,” said UNHCR Regional Representative Sanda Kimbimbi. “We will certainly play our part to ensure that the NMF and other credible institutions achieve our collective goal of combating xenophobic tendencies.”