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Kenyans Concerned for Countrymen in South Africa


Concern has risen in Kenya about the safety of Kenyan nationals living in South Africa, after at least two Kenyans were targeted in anti-foreigner riots. No Kenyans have been killed in the attacks, but the Kenyan government has urged its citizens living in South Africa to exercise extra caution. Derek Kilner has this report for VOA from Nairobi.

Kenyan media has been abuzz with news that Kenyan citizens have been targeted in xenophobic riots that have swept Johannesburg and other parts of South Africa in the past week. One woman had her mobile phone shop looted, and another woman had her house broken into, and there are reports of other Kenyans receiving threats.

Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula told reporters Wednesday that neither of the victims were harmed physically.

"All our nationals are safe," he said. "The traders are however still in some state of discomfort because those who are in the shanty towns around Johannesburg are intermittently opening and closing their businesses because of threats from South African nationals."

Roughly 20,000 Kenyans live in South Africa, far fewer than the number of migrants from Mozambique or Zimbabwe. It's believed that an estimated three million Zimbabwean nationals live in South Africa.

And most of the Kenyans living there are students, professionals, or relatively prosperous businesspeople who do not live in the slums where the worst of the violence has taken place.

Nevertheless, the Kenyan government has urged its citizens - particularly shopowners - to exercise extra caution and to travel in groups when possible.

Wetangula said that most Kenyans living in South Africa have "return tickets" but that the government would take action to help Kenyans leave the country if the need arises.

Wetangula also expressed support for the South African government's response to the violence while registering his concern with the recent attacks.

"Along the bumpy road to independence, South Africans were scattered all over the continent including Kenya," he said. "We gave them tremendous and admirable hospitality. The last country anybody would imagine would engage in xenophobia is South Africa."

At least 24 foreigners have been killed in riots since May 11. In a country of 50 million, South Africa's five million immigrants - many of them migrant mine workers or refugees - have become the target of growing resentment, particularly among the poor, as prices rise and unemployment remains high.

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