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South Africa: anti-foreigner attacks have been stoked by years of rhetoric and inaction

A wave of looting and violent attacks has swept across the country in recent weeks © Alon Skuy/Sowetan/Gallo Images via Getty Images

Attacks on refugees, migrants and asylum-seekers have occurred for past 11 years

‘The South African authorities must stop fuelling xenophobia in their desperate attempt to win political support’ - Shenilla Mohamed

Ongoing attacks in South Africa against refugees and migrants are a direct consequence of years of impunity which has left foreign nationals in the country exposed and unprotected, Amnesty International said today.

For several weeks, there has been systematic looting and burning of foreign-owned businesses in the country - largely in the capital Pretoria and the biggest city Johannesburg. 

The violence escalated dramatically last week, following confrontations between locals and foreigners marked by horrific attacks and killings. Five people have been confirmed dead.

Since 2008, there have been numerous outbreaks of violence against refugees, migrants and asylum-seekers in South Africa. In some cases, xenophobia has been fuelled by rhetoric from the authorities. 

For example, last November, the former health minister, Aaron Motsoaledi, accused “foreign” nationals of burdening the country’s health system. Meanwhile, in 2016, the mayor of Johannesburg, Herman Mashaba, said foreign nationals in Johannesburg were “criminals” who had hijacked the city.

Shenilla Mohamed, Amnesty International South Africa’s Executive Director, said: 

“The South African authorities must stop fuelling xenophobia in their desperate attempt to win political support. 

“The South African authorities must come up with a security plan to ensure the safety of all refugees and migrants, and seek to end these attacks once and for all. 

“That begins with holding suspected perpetrators of past xenophobic crimes to account and breaking this cycle of impunity.” 

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