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UNHCR chief discusses southern Africa with Lesotho leader

News Stories, 10 June 2008

© UNHCR/S.Hopper
High Commissioner Guterres and Lesotho Prime Minister Mosisili look at UNHCR's Nobel Peace Prize medals.

GENEVA, June 10 (UNHCR) UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres and Lesotho Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili met in Geneva on Tuesday and discussed the situation in South Africa, including a recent wave of xenophobic attacks on foreigners.

The two men, during a wide-ranging discussion in the Geneva headquarters of the UN refugee agency, also discussed UNHCR's operations in the region and the emerging role of regional bodies, such as the South African Development Community (SADC), in addressing the growing challenge of mixed migration and contributing to stability in the region.

On the subject of South Africa, Guterres stressed that the recent wave of xenophobic attacks were the result of extreme poverty. "In such situations scapegoats are often foreigners, including refugees and asylum seekers," Guterres said. "But xenophobia is not specific to South Africa it is a global problem and we see it also in some developed countries," he added.

Attacks during a two-week period last month left some 60 people dead, according to police, and tens of thousands of foreigners homeless around the country. UNHCR condemned the violence and immediately responded to this crisis. The High Commissioner stressed that his office in Pretoria continues to work closely with the South African government, helping it to meet the immediate humanitarian needs of the victims.

Following the meeting, Mosisili visited UNHCR's Emergency Operations Room, where he was briefed on the agency's emergency response capacities and the ability to almost instantly deploy staff and resources where needed such as in recent natural disasters in Myanmar and China.

UNHCR staff also briefed the Prime Minister on a first UNHCR layer in the innovative Google Earth programme. This powerful online mapping tool provides an up-close and multifaceted view of some of the world's major displacement crises and the humanitarian efforts aimed at helping the victims.

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The High Commissioner

António Guterres, who joined UNHCR on June 15, 2005, is the UN refugee agency's 10th High Commissioner.

Victims of Conflict in Nigeria Find Safety in Cameroon Camp

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres visited Cameroon in late March to put a spotlight on the situation there of tens of thousands of refugees from Nigeria. These people have escaped mounting violence by insurgents in the north-east of their country. Among the places that Guterres visited during his March 24-25 visit is the Minawao Refugee Camp, where many of the uprooted have been relocated.

Situated some 120 kilometres from the dangerous border area with Nigeria in Cameroon's Far North region, Minawao camp is currently home to 33,000 Nigerian refugees, mainly from Borno state. Many of the arrivals are traumatized and in need of material and psycho-social help. They told the High Commissioner of losing their homes and belongings as well as members of their families. Some were injured. In total, an estimated 74,000 Nigerians have found refuge in Cameroon while cross-border incursions from Nigeria have displaced 96,000 Cameroonians. UNHCR photographer Hélène Caux also visited Minawao to hear the individual stories.

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More than 40,000 people, including refugees and asylum-seekers, have crossed the Mediterranean on overcrowded boats and descended on the small island since the beginning of the year.

The UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador flew to Lampedusa from Malta, which has also been a destination for people fleeing North Africa by boat.

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