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IOM: Attacks Against Foreign Migrants on Rise in South Africa

FILE - Migrants in Cape Town's Mannenberg community demonstrate against xenophobia.

The International Organization for Migration is condemning growing violence against foreign nationals and their businesses in several Johannesburg townships. IOM is calling on the South African government to take urgent action to protect the migrants from xenophobic attacks.

The International Organization for Migration reported attacks against migrants have now spread beyond Soweto to two other Johannesburg townships; Alexandra and Langlaagte.

In the past two weeks, IOM reported nine people have been killed in the affected areas, with seven deaths directly linked to the violence between migrants and South Africans. It said more than 165 arrests have been made.

Spokesman Joel Millman said there were more than 700 documented cases of looting of shops owned by migrants from Somalia, Ethiopia and Bangladesh.

“Prejudices and stereotypes about migrants unfortunately fuel the sentiments of those who choose to loot and plunder the shops of hard-working entrepreneurs simply because of their ethnic background. The misperception still exists that migrants come to South Africa to steal jobs and take advantage of the social system. In reality, many migrants create jobs and generate economic activity, which benefits all South Africans,” he said.

The International Organization for Migration said statistics on the number of migrants in South Africa were not reliable. But, it noted the number of documented migrants was believed to be between 1.6 million and two million. The IOM said the number of so-called illegal migrants was estimated to be about four or five times higher.

It said most of the migrants lived in Gauteng province, which includes Johannesburg and Pretoria. Although most of the violence against foreign nationals has taken place in Gauteng, the IOM noted violence also has erupted in the Northern Cape, Western Cape, and Kwazulu Natal.

Millman said hostility against foreign nationals was based on various factors. He said South Africa’s economy and relatively liberal social policies attracted many migrants from all over the continent.

“It has been a big haven for gay, lesbian, transgender, intersex migrants who do not feel safe in their own communities. They are often much more open in South Africa than in other places and that also sometimes triggers a backlash. There are quite a lot of migrants who use South Africa as a conduit to get to South America and then on to North America. So--it is quite a mix. There are also a lot of people who just choose to start businesses there because it is a much more vibrant economy than in a place like Ethiopia or Uganda let us say,” he said.

The International Organization for Migration commended the government for speaking out against the looting, intolerance and discrimination toward foreign nationals. But, it said more must be done to change negative public perceptions of migrants that make them targets of violent mob attacks. It said measures must be taken to protect their safety, property and dignity.

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