UN human rights experts Friday condemned reports of escalating violence targeting foreign nationals in South Africa and called for greater accountability.
The experts said in a statement that xenophobia has increased due to vigilant movements such as Operation Dudula which has been mobilizing against migrants.
The vigilante group has held several protests and anti-immigrant campaigns in townships against the alleged influx of illegal immigrants. Their target is mainly migrants from African states and South Asia.
Operation Dudula has forcefully shut down several small retail businesses belonging to migrants, refugees and asylum seekers operating in townships.
The government has condemned the activities of the group but they continue to operate.
The special rapporteurs warned that the ongoing xenophobic mobilization in South Africa is broader and deeper, and has become the central campaign strategy for some political parties.
Some believe that migrants, especially those from neighboring countries, are living illegally in South Africa.
They accuse them of committing crimes, talking away jobs meant for locals and crowding social service amenities, among other charges.
For years, South Africa has witnessed incidents of violent anti-immigrant attacks. But the worst was in May 2008, when at least 62 people were killed and hundreds injured in cross-country riots that saw mobs target the homes of migrants.
At least 100,000 people were displaced as a result of the violence.
The UN experts fear growing mobilization by vigilante groups and politicians could ignite new anti-immigrant violence.
“Without urgent action from the government of South Africa to curb the scapegoating of migrants and refugees, and the widespread violence and intimidation against these groups, we are deeply concerned that the country is on the precipice of explosive violence,” the group warned.
The government has frequently condemned violence targeting migrants but incidents continue, despite legislation against hate, crime and racism.