The Nigerian government has began the drastic effort to evacuate Nigerians from South Africa in a bid to protect its citizens from the menace of xenophobic attacks.
Nigeria will repatriate about 600 citizens from South Africa this week following a wave of xenophobic violence that has sparked sharp exchanges between the two countries, a Nigerian diplomat said on Monday.
“They are about 600 now” to be flown back, Godwin Adamu, the Nigerian consul general in Johannesburg, told AFP.
A first flight will carry 320 Nigerians, he said, adding: “We will have another one immediately after that.”
Johannesburg and its surrounding areas have been rocked by a series of deadly attacks on foreigners that started last week, including many directed against Nigerian-owned businesses and properties.
At least 10 people were killed in the violence and hundreds of shops destroyed, while more than 420 people were arrested.
More than 100,000 Nigerians are estimated to live in South Africa, said Adamu.
Foreign workers in South Africa, the continent’s second-largest economy after Nigeria, are often victims of anti-immigrant sentiment in a nation where almost one in three people are unemployed.
The violence prompted reprisal attacks against South African firms in Nigeria and the temporary closing of South Africa’s diplomatic missions in Lagos and Abuja.
Nigeria last week summoned the South African ambassador to condemn the violence while sending an envoy to meet President Cyril Ramaphosa. The envoy returned to Nigeria at the weekend, the presidency said.
After a week of hardening rhetoric against South Africa, Nigeria pledged on Thursday to “work as brothers” with Pretoria.
“Nigeria does not seek an escalation of the ongoing situation,” a senior aide to President Muhammadu Buhari told reporters.