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Xenophobic attacks in South Africa draw condemnation from UN agency

Xenophobic attacks in South Africa draw condemnation from UN agency

Residents of Ramaphosa informal settlement, Johannesburg, hunting for foreigners
The United Nations refugee agency today condemned the latest xenophobic attacks that have driven some 3,000 foreigners, including refugees and asylum-seekers from Zimbabwe, from a community in South Africa.

The incident is the first large-scale xenophobic attack affecting refugees and asylum-seekers in South Africa since May 2008, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which is sending staff to De Dooms, a farming community 140 kilometres northeast of Cape Town, to work with local authorities to make it safe for foreigners to return there.

“We have moved quickly to help the displaced,” said UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic. “They are now awaiting the outcome of negotiations with local farmers who attacked their homes on Tuesday, accusing them of stealing their jobs by accepting cheaper wages in vineyards.”

Mr. Mahecic told a news conference in Geneva that documented refugees and asylum-seekers have the legal right to work in South Africa, but tensions often erupt over competition for jobs.

Those evicted are now staying in a sports field and a community centre in De Doorns, sleeping under three communal tents – each sheltering 1,000 people – supplied by the Government, and receiving meals from the South African Red Cross. UNHCR has donated smaller family tents to help ensure privacy for the families.

The agency welcomed the rapid humanitarian response of the local authorities and the fact that water, portable toilets and a mobile health clinic were provided within hours.

UNHCR has been supporting efforts to combat xenophobia in the country, where some 45,000 people were uprooted and 62 killed, according to Government estimates, after tensions between South Africans and foreigners erupted into violence in May 2008.