By Hassan Isilow
PRETORIA, South Africa (AA) - Protests by refugees and asylum seekers in South Africa continued for a second week on Sunday, with demonstrators demanding the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) relocate them to another country.
Following a series of recent anti-immigrant attacks that claimed 12 lives, protestors camped outside the UNHCR offices in Cape Town and the capital Pretoria said they did not feel safe in the country.
"All we are asking for is protection by the UNHCR by sending us to another country where we shall be safe," a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), who only identified himself as Pierre, told Anadolu Agency in Pretoria.
Last month, angry mobs in South Africa looted several migrant-owned shops in parts of Johannesburg and Pretoria, accusing foreigners of committing crimes and occupying jobs meant for locals by accepting low wages.
They also accuse migrants of unfair competition practices in retail business, for which they seek a ban on ownership by foreigners.
Protesting refugees also claim that they face difficulty renewing their documents at refugee centers across the country. Others claim they were harassed by officials and forced to pay bribes.
South Africa is home to tens of thousands of refugees and asylum seekers from mostly African countries.
As the continent's most industrialized country, it has also attracted migrants seeking better economic prospects in the country faced with high unemployment and crime.
"Protest leaders have been lying to refugees and asylum seekers that they will be resettled to other countries overseas that’s why they are protesting ," Patrick Matenga, an activist working with Unifam, an organization helping refugees, told Anadolu Agency.
"I’m discouraging my community members from engaging in the protests seeking resettlement, but instead encouraging them to integrate with South Africans," Abdulqadir Mohamed of the Somali Association in South Africa told Anadolu Agency via telephone from Cape Town on Saturday.
He said refugees and asylum seekers in South Africa were not confined to camps, as they were in most countries. "They have freedom of movement," he said.
- UNHCR responds
Meanwhile the UNHCR office in South Africa said in a statement it was aware of the concerns raised by refugees and asylum seekers in the country.
"We are working with authorities and partners, to address the issues, and improve the situation of all refugees and asylum seekers in South Africa," the agency said in a statement late on Friday.
The UNHCR also dismissed circulating claims that the body would evacuate refugees and resettle them in other countries.
"Group resettlement or evacuation out of South Africa is not being organized by UNHCR and is not being considered as a solution," the statement said
The Refugee Agency said resettlement was only available for a very small number of refugees and followed very strict criteria.