South Africa: attacks against foreign nationals continue
26 February 2010

Attacks on foreign nationals are continuing despite numerous efforts by the police and others to halt them, according to JRS South Africa Director, David Holdcroft SJ, on 24 February.

"Unfortunately these attacks against the businesses and homes of migrants, including refugees, have continued as frustrations with poor governance and service delivery spill over into the targeting of successful businesses and those who are perceived not to be parts of the community," Fr Holdcroft, said in reference to recent reports of attacks in Balfour township, in Mpumalanga Province, Atteridgeville township near Pretoria and Polokwane.

"JRS places asylum seekers in training and work through a number of vocational schools. Yesterday, the head of one of these schools told us she could only take one refugee in every intake of 12 [South Africans] and in some classes will not take any, as, in her words, refugees are just so much better educated than the poorest locals. Showing them any preference in response to their needs just creates too much resentment which can become volatile", Fr Holdcroft said referring to a recent experience as evidence of the difficulties facing asylum seekers and refugees in the country.

Media ambivalence

The situation is especially difficult for the Zimbabweans of which there are an estimated 1.2 million in South Africa, many of whom are undocumented. They are perceived to be voluntary migrants, despite the fact their government is unable to meet their basic needs, forcing them to flee their homes.

This ambivalence extends to international law which tends not to see them as refugees. Nevertheless, there are 320,000 asylum seekers in South Africa, half of whom are Zimbabweans, making the African nation the largest recipient of asylum claims worldwide.

Yet, Holdcroft continues, this ambivalence contributes to the fact that this issue is hardly mentioned in the world media.

This year, JRS in South Africa launched an initiative to work with communities where asylum seekers have settled in order to try to build the whole community through economic and social interventions.

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