Sleeping was not an option for Syed in early September last year.
For three days and nights,The owner of the Bangladeshi store in central Johannesburg said he had to stand guard to protect his shop during an outbreak of xenophobic violence that saw rioters throwing stones and other objects at him and others.businessmen in the area.
Syed said buyers had calledpolice for themwas presented onlyon the third day. By that time, more than 1,000 Bangladeshi shops had been looted, he added.
His account is one of dozens included in a report released Thursday by Human Rights Watch (HRW) documenting mob attacks on migrant communities in South Africa by people angry over difficult economic and living conditions. that they are experiencing.
According to the findings in the HRW report, xenophobic harassment and violence against Africans and other Asians living in the country are routine and sometimes deadly.
Fforeign agents have been blamed and blamed for economic insecurity, crime and government failures to provide services, the report said. Non-South Africans are also beingaccused of stealing jobs and women, depleting the country’s basic services, spreading disease and running crime syndicates.
“Xenophobic actions constitute a betrayal of South Africa’s constitutional promise,” said Kristie Ueda, an HRW researcher and author of the report.
“The constitution promises human dignity and non-racism. Non-citizens come to South Africa because there is this promise that they will live free and equal. But this idea has been betrayed,” she added.referring to the “prevailing trend of indifference” towards victims of xenophobic incidents.
“This time it takes the form of outright denial and sometimes even the form of tacit approval.”
‘Fire and blood’
At least 12 people were killed and thousands displaced in a week of violence from September 2 to 9 when they were foreign-owned businesses looted in different parts of Johannesburg. The riots were accompanied by protest calls for foreigners to leave.
HRW said respondents shared on WhatsApp the texts and voice messages they had received in the days before the violence that threatened to become “deadly” and that “there would be fire and blood” ifthe foreigners did not leave.
It was far from the first such incident in recent years. In 2017, violent anti-immigrant protests erupted in the capital, Pretoria, while in 2015, another wave of xenophobic attacks in various parts of the country killed several people and displaced thousands.
Angela Mudukuti, a human rights lawyer in Zimbabwe, said, “Xenophobia affects all black aliens in South Africa. It permeates every stratum of society creating a uniquely hostile society that does nothing but decide a wedge between the rest of the continent and South Africa. “
Forgery and documentation raids
For its report, HRW interviewed 51 people, including victims, lawyers and activists between March 2019 and March 2020 in the Western Cape, Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal provinces, areas hardest hit by xenophobic violence since the end of apartheid in 1994 until 2018, accordingXenowatchmonitoring group.
South Africans not interviewed by HRW also said government and law enforcement officials have used counterfeit goods and raids on documentation as a cover for xenophobic harassment and attacks. They believe their shops were disproportionately targeted by raiding authorities, during which police used tear gas and rubber bullets, according to the report.
Police would attack stores suspected of selling counterfeit goods with the intent of destroying or removing such goods from the market.But while the government says such operations protect the local economy and jobs, buyers and sellers in central Johannesburg told HRW that police sold them confiscated goods after looting their shops.
Al Jazeera contacted the Department of Home Affairs for comment but did not receive a response at the time of publication. On January 14,Aaron Motsoaledi, the then health minister and current interior minister, said, “We are not xenophobic as a department and as a country.”
Plan to combat xenophobia
In March 2019, the government launched the National Action Plan to Combat Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (NAP).
The purpose of the five-year plan is to improve the protection of foreigners and their access to justice, as well as to increasepublic awareness and understanding of xenophobia.
The NAP recommends establishing mechanisms to ensure that foreigners receive the services they deserve, facilitating their integration and embracing a humane and dignified approach to managing migrants, refugees and asylum seekers.
Still, xenophobic violence continued in the first year of the plan’s existence.
“The NAP is more of a description of the problem with very broad and vague recommendations for bias initiatives. It is not a series of budgeted programs,” he said.Steven Gordon, a senior fellow at the Humanities Research Council (HSRC), statinga “lack of measurable instruments that can be said to be implemented”.
Commenting on the HRW findings, Gordon said what is particularly striking is their resemblance to the documents included in a report released by HRW back in1998.“A lot of the issues are the same,” he said. “For example, the issue of the government underestimating the problem and the problems faced by vulnerable migrants such as refugees and asylum seekers, as well as the institutional resistance from office holders.”
Sharon Ekambaram, Head of the Refugee and Migrant Rights Program at Human Rights Advocates (LHR), who directslegal clinics for refugees and migrants in some cities,described the South African asylum system as “failed”.
Ekambaram said over the past year the refugee reception office in Musina, a town in Limpopo province, had a 100 percent rejection rate for asylum seekers and people seeking refugee status. “The quality of decision-making by officials is informed by xenophobia,” Ekambaram argued.
According to Ekambaram, xenophobic feelings are spreading more and more through social media. Statements made by politicians have also exacerbated the problem, she said, referring to a November 2018 statement made by Motsoaledi that South Africa’s health system is “overloaded” by foreign nationals.
“The government is in denial of xenophobia in our country. It must accept that hatred of foreigners is being fostered in communities. There must be consequences for those who rob and attack,” she said.
Ueda, meanwhile, recommended urgent measures to improve the situation for foreigners. “One obstacle to basic services is getting the right documentation. The government needs to extend the validity of an asylum seeker permit to alleviate the challenges that foreigners face with document renewal.”
Other HRW recommendations include formal monitoring of NAP implementation and the establishment of an accountability mechanism, as well as government acknowledging the existence of xenophobia in public statements.
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