A Nigerian national prepares to check in for a free flight home from South Africa [Reuters]
Nigeria has started the repatriation of more than 600 of its citizens from South Africa following a wave of deadly xenophobic attacks that has frayed relations between the two countries.
Al Jazeera’s Fahmida Miller, reporting from the airport in Johannesburg said on Wednesday that “of the more of 600 people who [were] expected to leave, at least, half of them,” were already there, while a “small group of people were turned back, due to incorrect documentation.”
The repatriation came after deadly riots in Pretoria and Johannesburg killed at least 12 people, including two foreigners, and targeted 1,000 foreign-owned businesses.
The violence sparked international outcry and calls for a boycott.
Reprisal attacks in Nigeria forced South African business to shut down while the South African embassy in Lagos temporarily closed its embassy on safety fears.
Ayanda Dlodlo, South Africa’s Minister of State Security, told reporters in Cape Town on Monday that those leaving will have to go through immigration rules.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Pastor Ugo Ofoegbu, who was at the airport to catch the flight, said that “some [people] had an expired passport.”
“They will have to go to the Nigerian consulate to get the [right] documentation that will allow them to travel,” the added.
Violence against foreigners is not a new phenomenon in South Africa, similar incidents had taken place before in 2008 and 2015.
“I am so worried about the safety of my family, because these [xenophobic] attacks keep happening, so if I don’t save my family now, I don’t know when [this will] start again,” Ofoegbu said
“It happened in 2008, and then in 2015, now it is repeating, so nobody knows when will it happen again,” he added.
The root causes of the latest wave of violence are still unclear but reports suggest it is related to high unemployment, criminality and poverty in the country.
Hesitancy from South Africa
However, South African officials have been hesitant to describe the wave of violence as xenophobic attacks, and instead they said this was an issue of criminality that the government is trying to deal with.
“While there has been a significant decline in the number of incidents, police forces remain on high alert and are closely monitoring hotspots to ensure further violence does not erupt,” Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said.
Police have made 653 arrests in connection with the attacks, mostly South African but including foreigners, police minister Bheki Cele said on Tuesday.
Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari is expected to visit South Africa next month to address the attacks and seek a solution.