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Refugees won't leave Pretoria UN offices, fearing attacks on foreign nationals

They're demanding protection after clashes between locals and foreign nationals in August in parts of the country, mainly in Gauteng, where at least 12 people were killed.

Foreign nationals, mostly from the Democratic Republic of Congo, on 16 October 2019 protested outside the offices of the UNHCR in Pretoria against xenophobic attacks in South Africa. Picture: Jean-Jacques Cornish/EWN

PRETORIA - Refugees who have staged a sit-in outside the United Nations Refugee Agency's offices in Pretoria say they were not going anywhere until they're settled into a camp.

The group has been there for days now. Two weeks ago, dozens of foreign nationals gathered at the UN Refugee Agency's offices in Cape Town, asking for help to leave South Africa.

The refugees in Pretoria are demanding protection after clashes between locals and foreign nationals in August in parts of the country, mainly in Gauteng, where at least 12 people were killed.

The refugees, who are mostly from the Democratic Republic of Congo, have been camping along Waterkloof Road for just over a week. Mattresses are laid on the lawns and washed clothes are hanging on the fence.

Women and Children in Crisis spokesperson Alex Nkoy said: “It’s been 11 years now. From 2008 people have been dying in South Africa because of the xenophobic attacks and the most vulnerable are the refugees.”

He said they resorted to living outside the office of the high commissioner out of fear.

“In the train, taxi or mall you’re targeted if you’re not South African.”

Some of the refugees said the UN told them to return to their communities as they worked on resources to place them in a camp.

The UN has been unavailable for comment.

Meanwhile, President Cyril Ramaphosa on Tuesday said the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) commended South Africa for its welcoming asylum policies.

Ramaphosa told heads of foreign missions that the country would address the social and economic factors that led to the violence on foreign nationals.

“The UNHCR is here to have a conversation with us as they’re also here to express to us the gratitude they would like to impart with us because they say our policies in relation to welcoming and processing of refugees is one of the better ones in the world,” he said.

This came as foreigners occupied the UN offices in Cape Town and Pretoria for days demanding they be assisted to leave South Africa due to victimisation.

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