Saturday, May 24, 2008

Mozambique Fears ‘Exodus’ From Violence

Mozambique declared a state of emergency to help its citizens fleeing attacks against foreigners in South Africa, warning on Friday that the “exodus will worsen” as thousands are still housed in makeshift camps awaiting transport back home.

The South African police reported more violence on Friday, with sporadic outbursts across the country, including Cape Town and Durban, leaving scores more homeless. A spokesman for the Cape Town police, Billy Jones, said about 400 people had sought shelter on a racetrack after 12 people were injured in overnight attacks on an informal settlement in Cape Town.

“The area is quiet now, but we are maintaining a visible presence,” he said, adding that many of the displaced had been moved to community centres and town halls.

At least 42 people have been killed and more than 25,000 displaced since attacks began this month by South Africans who blame immigrants for crime and unemployment.

Thousands have taken shelter at police stations, churches and other temporary camps. Officials plan to build tent cities on vacant land for them.

Predicting an escalating “exodus,” Mozambique’s foreign minister, Oldemiro Baloi, said the state of emergency was declared on Thursday night as thousands of Mozambicans flooded across the border.

Mr. Baloi said about 10,000 people had returned on their own while 620 people arrived Thursday in buses arranged by the consulate in Johannesburg.

With the emergency declaration, the Mozambican government can release money and aid to help those returning.

They are being transported from the capital, Maputo, to their hometowns and given clothes, food, blankets and basic domestic items so they can start again.

“While thousands of Mozambicans are reportedly streaming home, many Zimbabweans cannot consider returning home due to the well-known situation in their country.”

In South Africa, the police inspector, Sanku Tsunke, said officers were investigating the distribution of pamphlets calling for foreigners to leave the township of Garankua, outside Pretoria. He said the pamphlets warned illegal immigrants to leave by Friday.

Other violent episodes have been reported in the eastern province of Mpumalanga, which borders Mozambique. Four shops belonging to Somali businessmen were burned as well as two buses, the South African Broadcasting Corporation reported.

Violence has also been reported in northern and western areas of South Africa.

On Wednesday, Thabo Mbeki called in the South African National Defence Force for the first time since the end of apartheid in 1994.

Soldiers were used in a dawn swoop on Thursday in downtown Johannesburg on three worker hostels whose residents were suspected of inciting violence. In all, 28 people were arrested.

The situation in and around Johannesburg, where the worst violence initially broke out, was calmer on Friday. But there are now fears about the spread of disease and illness among the displaced.

Bianca Tolboom, a nurse with the international aid organization Doctors Without Borders, said there were concerns about overcrowding and access to clean drinking water.

“Some people have been staying in the open air with not sufficient blankets,” she said, “so now the main medical concerns are respiratory tract infections and diarrheal.”

“The other main concern is the mental health,” Ms. Tolboom said. “People are very traumatized. There have been a lot of stress-related body pains, high blood pressure.”

Ms. Tolboom said people were also suffering from colds and throat and chest infections.

“As people continue to stay in these conditions,” she said, “more and more people will get sick.”

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