CAPE TOWN, April 1 (Xinhua) -- The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on Monday voiced "extreme concern" over a new spate of violence against foreigners in South Africa.
The violent attacks targeting foreign nationals, including refugees and asylum-seekers in the Durban area in KwaZulu-Natal Province, have left at least six people killed and several others severely injured, the UNHCR said in a statement emailed to Xinhua.
Mobs armed with metal rods and machetes broke into the homes of foreigners to chase them away and loot their belongings, the agency said.
Several shops run by foreigners have been looted, vandalized or set on fire, said the agency.
The attacks, which took place last week, were linked to protests that turned into brutal violence against foreigners in some areas in Durban.
Some 250 persons have sought safety and protection at Sherwood Mosque as well as in different police stations in the city.
In Limpopo Province, similar attacks also took place.
Foreigners are blamed for taking up jobs that should have been taken by locals. A message that has been circulating on social media since last week calls for protest action against the employment of foreigners as truck drivers and security guards.
"UNHCR calls for urgent action by the government and civil society to prevent reoccurring violence against foreign nationals, including refugees who come to South Africa for protection from persecution and violence," said Leonard Zulu, UNHCR Deputy Regional Representative for Southern Africa.
Regardless of nationality or immigration status, the human rights of all persons residing in South Africa must be respected, said Zulu.
UNHCR is currently working with local authorities, UN agencies and partners to prevent escalation of violence and to coordinate the response for affected persons, including refugees and asylum-seekers, according to Zulu.
"We also call for the government to ensure that those responsible for acts of violence are brought to account," Zulu said.
The attacks prompted the South African government to call on all stakeholders including community leaders to stop and discourage attacks on foreign nationals.
South Africans are generally peace-loving and friendly people and most of these attacks are nothing less of criminality, government spokesperson Pumla Williams said.
South Africa has a high number of foreign nationals who are integrated into communities across the country and the government calls on all South Africans and foreign nationals to live in harmony, she said.
The country is host to some 274,000 refugees and asylum-seekers, according to the UNHCR.
South Africa launched a national action plan on March 22 this year to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance. The plan foresees the establishment of a rapid response team reacting swiftly to all incidents of xenophobia and intolerance.