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S. African Relief Groups Worried About Anti-Foreigner Violence Victims

The South African government is studying ways to ease the suffering of tens of thousands of people displaced by the recent anti-foreigner violence. But relief groups object to proposals to place the foreigners in large shelters. VOA's Scott Bobb reports from Johannesburg.

Relief workers agree the government must address the plight of an estimated 30,000 people displaced by two weeks of violence against foreigners.

But many of these, like Red Cross Secretary-General David Stephens, say grouping them in large shelters is not the best solution.

"No one is really in favor of huge camps because it brings other challenges that government may have to face in camp management," said David Stephens. "So we hope that there are other solutions like resettling people in other areas where people are more comfortable hosting foreign nationals."

He says the government should negotiate agreements with local communities that are willing to host foreigners. But he says it must move quickly because winter in the southern hemisphere is setting in and the plight of the displaced is becoming unbearable.

"It's raining," he said. "It's cold. It's wet. And people are living in tents that are very thin or in halls that are cold and sleeping on the floor. And people are beginning to develop illnesses.

More than 50 people were killed and hundreds wounded in a wave of attacks that began 2.5 weeks ago in impoverished communities in Johannesburg and then spread to other parts of the country.

The attackers said they wanted to drive away foreigners because they took jobs and public housing away from poor South Africans. Authorities say the primary motive was criminal. The government has condemned the attacks and launched an investigation.

Stephens of the Red Cross says South Africans have responded generously to the attacks by contributing food, blankets and clothing and by volunteering in the shelters.

"South Africans have shown that amidst what has happened not all of them are xenophobic, not all of them have got something against foreign nationals and that they would like to do something to lessen the burden and to show foreign nationals that South Africans do care about them," added Stephens.

He says in addition to the donations of goods his organization has received more than $700,000 in funds to help the displaced.