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Migrants in South Africa Desperate to Go Home

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) says it is being flooded with requests for assistance from migrants in South Africa desperate to go home. The U.N. agency is making a preliminary appeal for $350,000 so it can start returning foreign migrants to their home countries. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) says thousands of foreigners fleeing South Africa in the aftermath of ongoing xenophobic attacks are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.

It says hundreds of people have asked it for assistance in going home. And, such requests are continuing to increase.

Government authorities report more than 20,000 Mozambicans have returned home. The Red Cross says about 25,000 Zimbabweans are believed to have gone to Zambia, with thousands others going to other southern African countries.

IOM Spokeswoman, Jemini Pandya, says the appeal for $350,000 will provide mainly non-food items for several thousand migrants and enable about 500 to be helped home. She says this is only a fraction of the thousands of people IOM estimates could need transportation and other assistance to go home.

"And often since people have fled, they have escaped the violence with absolutely nothing and that would also include documents, passports, money, of course," she explained. "So, usually when we provide voluntary assistance, return assistance, that also includes help in coming up with documents so that they can cross borders. And, usually such assistance is normally followed up as long as the funding is there to provide re-integration assistance for people when they get back home."

When the migrants return home, Pandya says they will need help with shelter, food and some cash to tide them over until they can get back on their feet.

The attacks began more than two weeks ago. The government reports 56 people have been killed, more than 650 injured and more than 35,000 left homeless. Aid agencies say the true number of displaced people is at least 80,000.

A spokesman for the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF), Michael Klaus, says his agency is providing emergency relief supplies to meet immediate needs of vulnerable women and children in areas hardest hit by the violence.

"We distributed hygiene kits, fortified cereals for young children, clothing especially," he said. "South Africa is now heading into the winter season, especially in the area of Johannesburg, Pretoria temperatures are now dropping dramatically and warm clothes are absolutely needed."

Klaus says many of those displaced by the violence are babies and young children. So, he says UNICEF is supplying Early Childhood Development kits containing basic play and stimulation materials.

He says playgroups and on-site day-care centers are also being set up to provide traumatized children with a sense of stability.