Harare, Zimbabwe (PANA) - Zimbabweans are among three countries living in South Africa being targeted by the perpetrators of the recent wave of xenophobic attacks, research from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said here Friday.
According to UNHCR, foreign nationals from Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique living in South Africa are being targeted by that country's locals.
"Our staff are receiving a significant increase in calls to our telephone hotlines in recent weeks, with people reporting that their homes and businesses have been looted, buildings and property have been set on fire, increased gang activity on the streets and rising incidents of sexual and gender-based violence," UNHCR in a statement said.
"Many refugees are now too afraid to go to work or carry out their day-to-day trade, despite having no alternative sources of income.
“Refugees and asylum-seekers are feeling particularly vulnerable, as their situation is often worsened by a lack of documentation, leaving them struggling to access health care, education and other public services.
"Some 800 people, mostly from Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe, have sought safety in community halls in Katlehong. Many wish to return home, saying they no longer feel safe in South Africa.
“Reports indicate that 73 Malawians, 138 Mozambicans, 314 Nigerians and 72 Zimbabweans have decided to return already," the statement said.
United Nations Secretary General spokesperson, Stéphane Dujarric, at a press briefing during the ongoing 74th session of the General Assembly confirmed to PANA that Zimbabweans were being heavily targeted.
"We are trying to get the breakdown but we know there are refugees from a number of countries including Zimbabwe," he said.
The xenophobic attacks against Zimbabwean nationals come as there are an estimated three to four million foreign nationals living in South Africa seeking better livelihoods.
This comes as the economic situation in Zimbabwe continues to remain perilous with no end in sight.
Making matters worse is the ongoing drought in the country that has affected 67 percent of the nearly 14 million population that depends on agriculture, resulting in a rapid increase of food insecure persons.
As previously reported, in a report by Refugee International (RI) last month, one aid official told RI that there could be “mass movements to South Africa” if the food situation did not improve.
UNHCR reported that at least 12 people, including both foreign nationals and South Africans, had been killed since the onset of the recent violence.
“At least 1,500 foreign nationals, predominantly migrants but also refugees and asylum-seekers, have been forced to flee their homes," UNHCR said.
UNHCR said that many refugees were now too afraid to go to work or carry out their day-to-day trade, despite having no alternative sources of income.
Currently, UNHCR is strengthening its operational presence in South Africa to ensure refugees’ safety, in close coordination with the South African government, UN agencies through the UN Protection Working Group chaired by UNHCR, and NGO and civil society partners.
Due to growing pressure, South African authorities recently adopted a National Action Plan to Combat Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance.
UNHCR called for the plan to be swiftly implemented and sufficiently resourced to avert further damage and destruction.
“Those with a voice in the public domain have a responsibility to ensure their language does not further inflame the situation, and that foreigners do not become scapegoats for complex socio-economic challenges,” UNHCR said.
South Africans have taken to social media to blame foreign nationals for taking their jobs and contributing to the high unemployment.
-0- PANA TZ/RA 20Sept2019