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  • The Nigerian government said an estimated 313 people boarded the flight on Wednesday to return home.

    The Nigerian government said an estimated 313 people boarded the flight on Wednesday to return home. | Photo: Reuters

Published 11 September 2019

The repatriation came after a cycle of violence burst out in Johannesburg leading to attacks on hundreds of foreign-owned businesses and killing 12.

Nigeria started Wednesday the repatriation of more than 600 of its citizens from South Africa after waves of violent xenophobic attacks broke out in the country at the beginning of September.

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A private Nigerian air-company offered to transport people back to the Nigerian city of Lagos for free. The Nigerian government said an estimated 313 people boarded the flight to return home, and a second flight will set off Thursday or Friday with 640 people in total leaving the country.

"We agreed that it is better I go back home with the children," said Precious Oluchi Mbabie,  a 35-year-old Nigerian woman who boarded the flight with her three children, leaving her husband behind.

Mbabie who lives in Rosettenville, one of the first areas to be affected by the violence said that the area is "very dangerous because of xenophobia," adding that "they say they don't want any foreigners there." 

The repatriation came after a cycle of violence burst out in Johannesburg on Sept. 1 leading to attacks on some 1,000 foreign-owned businesses and shops, and killing 12 people while injuring many. 

The nationalities of those killed have not been confirmed yet, but Nigerians, Ethiopians, Congolese, and Zimbabweans were assaulted, according to local media.

Many videos of the attacks circulated on social media, triggering international outrage and calls for a boycott of South Africa.

"My family is not safe here," said Ugo Ofoegbu,  who has lived in South Africa for 20 years but decided to send his family back to Nigeria.

On the other hand, reprisal actions in Nigeria forced South African businesses to close up, while the South African embassy in Lagos temporarily shut its doors over security concerns.

The attacks on foreign nationals and their businesses were not the firsts of their kind in the Southern African country. Before 1994, migrants used to face discrimination and violence, as the nation transitioned from South Africa's National Party government which ruled the country since 1948 and advocated the apartheid system to the African National Congress (ANC), contrary to expectations, the frequency of xenophobia increased.

Between 2000 and 2008, at least 67 died in xenophobic attacks, and on May 2008, a series of attacks left 62 people dead.

A majority of the Nigerian population alongside other African migrants in South Africa fled poverty and lack of possibilities in their own countries.

In South Africa, socio-economic policies from decades of ANC governments created mass poverty and amplified the huge inequalities affecting the major part of poor black South Africans. As a result, the poorest people in South Africa are being led to believe that African migrants are responsible for their situation.

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