23 May 2008The United Nations refugee agency said today that it remains “deeply concerned” over the recent xenophobic violence in South Africa, which has claimed dozens of lives and has displaced some 17,000 people, including refugees and asylum-seekers. Many of those who have been attacked in the past two weeks – a large percentage of them being Zimbabweans – had originally moved to South Africa to escape persecution in their own countries. “We are present on the ground and have been assessing the needs at sites near police stations where the displaced have gathered,” Jennifer Pagonis, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said today. On Wednesday, the agency distributed blankets and mats to survivors, with additional supplies being released from emergency stocks yesterday. Ms. Pagonis said UNHCR is in close contact with the South African Government regarding further assistance. Among the displaced Zimbabweans are many asylum-seekers who urgently require both assistance and protection, UNHCR said. “While thousands of Mozambicans are reportedly streaming home, many Zimbabweans cannot consider returning home due to the well-known situation in their country,” Ms. Pagonis observed. Since many of the Zimbabweans need international protection, she called for those seeking asylum to have access to national asylum procedures in South Africa or other nations. “Zimbabweans who are refugees should be recognized as such,” she noted.” In the past, UNHCR has encouraged South Africa to halt the deportation of Zimbabweans to their country, and it is calling on South Africa to grant them, on an exceptional basis, the possibility to stay in the country. “Recent events in South Africa, as well as in their own country, are once again highlighting just how vulnerable this group is, making acting on UNHCR’s appeal even more urgent today,” Ms. Pagonis said. The agency pledged its continued support to the Government in boosting the national asylum system and in protecting refugees and asylum-seekers currently in South Africa, numbering over 125,000.