The terror and fear were real, the damage devastating—the response swift and effective. Over three days last week, South Africa-based staff from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), in collaboration with the Governments of Malawi and South Africa, assisted 57 Malawian nationals with voluntary return to their homes, following an outbreak of violence in the Durban area of KwaZulu-Natal.
Support for these vulnerable migrants was provided under a project funded by the European Union (EU) called “Pilot Action on Voluntary Return and Sustainable Community-Based Reintegration.” According to press reports and several human rights NGOs, migrants of other nationalities—notably Congolese, Burundians and Tanzanians—also were targeted by xenophobic mobs, suffering injury, theft and damage to their property.
“My house was broken into, and I was beaten, and robbed of my belongings”, said Martin to the Malawian media upon arriving at Kamuzu International Airport in Lilongwe.
Durban’s violence led to the displacement of about 300 Malawian nationals. Of those, 105 Malawians expressed willingness to voluntarily return to Malawi. Later, after noting the violence had receded, about half of those decided to return to their homes in Durban.
“This support extends our global commitment to provide humanitarian assistance to migrants in need, including refugees and internally displaced people. The situation in Durban exposed migrants to violence, and we, as the UN Migration Agency, took the initiative to provide an option for those who no longer felt safe, and thus wished to voluntarily return back to Malawi,” said Lily Sanya, IOM Chief of Mission in South Africa.
While still in South Africa, returning migrants were provided with counselling to help them make informed decisions about their return, also assistance in securing travel documents in collaboration with their respective Consulates and Embassies in South Africa. IOM also assisted in the booking and payment of air tickets and offered transit assistance within South Africato returnees living outside Johannesburg.
IOM assisted the returnees in batches, with the first group of 19 migrants (18 males, one female) leaving just over a week ago (8 April), the second group of 22 male and one female, 22 males departing two days later and a final group of 15 males leaving Friday, 12 April. All three groups were received by senior government officials and IOM in Malawi.
“IOM condemns the actions of the criminal elements in the community and urge the migrants in the community to respect the laws of the country. IOM is actively engaged with the Government of South Africa and Malawi to facilitate the safe, orderly and voluntary return of the migrants affected by the violence to their home country” said Mpilo Nkomo, IOM Head of Office in Malawi.
Kennedy Nkhoma, Chief Director for the Ministry of Homeland Security, added that “the Malawi Government is saddened by the violence that occurred in Durban, and is fully engaged with its counterpart, South Africa, to support the nationals that have been affected by the violence. We are very grateful to the IOM and the EU Delegation to Malawi for assisting the affected nationals.”
The issue of violence against foreign nationals in South Africa has engaged stakeholders including the diplomatic community, business and religious groups, community leaders, and foreign nationals themselves.
“We continue to strive for durable solutions that ensure the peaceful coexistence of our communities,” said Thenjiwe Mtintso the South African High Commissioner to Malawi. “Many Malawian nationals are visitors to—and are living in South Africa—and many more are attracted to pursuing prosperity in our country.”
Added EU Ambassador Sandra Paesen: “The EU Delegation in Malawi is a key partner of voluntary return and reintegration assistance to migrants and deplores the breach of physical integrity suffered by migrants in South Africa. The Head of EU Delegation in Malawi encourages the Government to pursue this objective in line with both national and international best practices.”
IOM, in collaboration with the Government of Malawi, has assisted a total of 231 Malawian nationals with voluntary return from South Africa, under the Pilot Action.
The Mayor of Durban and representatives from the Malawian High Commissioner in South Africa encouraged the community members to live together in peace and harmony and use the existing structures to address issues in the community instead of taking the law into their hands. The community indicated that they were ready to receive the Malawians back into the community.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of International Organization for Migration (IOM).