International human rights bodies have periodically evaluated the response of the South African government to xenophobic and other forms of bias-motivated violence. Since waves of attacks on foreigners swept the country in 2008, the government continues to struggle to address this type of violence. Although on a lesser scale, attacks against foreigners and threats of violence have been a regular part of the lives of many refugees, migrants, and other foreigners living in South Africa.
On May 31, the U.N. Human Rights Council discussed the work of the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, Jorge Bustamante. Speaking generally, Bustamente reported that “migrants were often subject to xenophobic outbreaks of abuse and violence.” Indeed, xenophobic violence is a global problem that has been extensively documented in many countries, including in South Africa, a country Mr. Bustamante visited earlier this year.
In a special country report released on that visit and made available to the U.N. delegates, the Special Rapporteur recognized that the government had taken some steps to address the xenophobic attacks against migrants. In 2008, during the worst outbreak of violence in recent years, foreign nationals were targeted and attacked in over 130 locations in various parts of South Africa. More than sixty people were killed, hundreds injured, and over 100,000 displaced. Last year, as the world’s attention was captivated by the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, migrants and refugees feared of venturing out because of reported threats of new clashes. These threats weren’t unfounded: after the Cup, in spite of considerable efforts by the government to prevent any outbreaks of violence, four foreigners were murdered in Johannesburg.
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