Xenophobia worries UN

Vuyolwethu Sangotsha

Vuyolwethu Sangotsha

The world's foremost refugee agency is worried about high levels of xenophobia in Port Elizabeth and other parts of South Africa.

Pumla Rulashe, information officer for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), yesterday said animosity towards foreigners were a great concern.

She attended a World Refugee Day event in Port Elizabeth, and said people should be educated about the importance of accommodating foreigners, many of whom were refugees.

Rulashe stressed the importance of promoting tolerance and acceptance through diversity.

"There's a certain degree of misunderstanding of people from different backgrounds. People should ask themselves why foreigners are here. They must find out what circumstances led them to come here," she added.

Rulashe said there were 35000 recognised refugees from countries such as Somalia, Burundi, Zimbabwe, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo in South Africa.

She said statistics may not be a true reflection of the numbers of refugees in the country. She encouraged South Africans to be open-minded when dealing with foreigners. She said most refugees fled because of civil wars and political instability in their homelands.

"People should educate themselves about the state of affairs in other African countries," she said.

Rulashe said recent attacks on Somalis in Port Elizabeth were a sign of xenophobia. Traders in Port Elizabeth had been attacked and their spaza shops looted

Port Elizabeth police spokesman Captain Andre Beetge said the police had intervened in the attacks by arresting people who broke the law.