GENEVA - The U.N. refugee agency is urging the South African authorities to get to grips with violence targeting foreigners before it gets completely out of control.
UNHCR says it is alarmed by the xenophobic fever, which is taking hold of large portions of South African society. It says even refugees and asylum seekers, who are particularly vulnerable, have become targets of violent anti-foreigner sentiment.
Four people reportedly were killed in the Soweto area of Johannesburg by angry protesters last week, while mobs looted and destroyed property belonging to foreign nationals. The UNHCR says it is worried these tense standoffs between South Africans and foreigners is spreading to Kwazulu Natal and Western Cape Provinces.
UNHCR spokesman Charlie Yaxley told VOA similar attacks occurred in 2015, but relations between South African nationals and foreigners since then, by-in-large, have been peaceful.
“But, we do see these flare-ups every now and again. And, we do want to underscore that those affected are people who have already fled war and persecution. And, they have been brought to South Africa because they require protection,” Yaxley said.
South Africa currently hosts more than 280,000 refugees and asylum-seekers. Yaxley said UNHCR staff has visited those affected by violence in Soweto in recent days. He said it found shops owned by foreigners have been looted and destroyed, stripping their owners of their livelihoods.
He said the UNHCR is heartened by condemnation of these attacks by civil society groups and hopes this will result in the restoration of peaceful co-existence and harmony with foreign nationals.