The UN refugee agency is urging South African authorities to suspend deportation of Zimbabweans and to allow them to regularize their stay in South Africa. The UNHCR says it is making this exceptional request in light of the violence against foreigners in South Africa in which 42 people have been killed. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from UNHCR headquarters in Geneva.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees says it is deeply concerned about the attacks against foreigners in South Africa, including refugees and asylum-seekers. More than 16,000 people have fled their homes in the wake of the violence, which has spread to Cape Town, where mobs attacked Zimbabweans and Somalis.
UNHCR spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis says Zimbabweans seeking asylum should not be sent home.
"They include people who came to South Africa to seek asylum," she said. "They urgently need both assistance and protection. And, while thousands of Mozambicans are reportedly streaming home, many Zimbabweans cannot consider returning home due to the well-known situation in their country."
"A significant number of Zimbabweans have got genuine international protection needs. And, those who are seeking asylum should have access to the national asylum procedures in South Africa and in other neighboring countries and elsewhere in the world, for that matter," she added.
Pagonis says the UNHCR has been assessing the needs at sites near police stations where the displaced are gathered. She says the agency is distributing blankets and mats.
The International Organization for Migration also is providing practical assistance. Spokesman Jean-Philippe Chauzy says the agency is distributing emergency kits containing clothes, blankets, oral rehydration salts and food. He says foreigners have been coming to IOM's regional office in Pretoria asking for assistance.
"They want to leave South Africa," said Chauzy. "But, most of them have got no money. They fled literally with the clothes they have on their backs. Most of them have no documentations because of their status. You might have heard that Mozambique is trying to evacuate about 10,000 of its nationals out of South Africa. Buses have been lined up to help with the evacuation of Mozambicans."
Chauzy says IOM has teamed up with Metro-FM, a South African and regional broadcaster, to air messages of tolerance. He says IOM is also encouraging South Africans who want to denounce this violence to donate money to the victims.