Bangladeshis in S Africa in trouble

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Mobs vandalised and looted several hundred shops of Bangladeshis in South Africa in waves of anti-immigrant violence from Monday to Wednesday.

There were no reports of casualties of any Bangladeshis in the xenophobic attacks, but they are living in fear and uncertainty over their future though the situation seemed normal since Thursday, officials and Bangladeshi expatriates told The Daily Star yesterday. 

According to BBC, the attack comes at a time of high unemployment and some South Africans blame foreigners for taking their jobs.

The unemployment rate in South Africa is nearly 28 percent, the highest since the labour force survey was introduced 11 years ago. 

“I cannot think of what is my future here. All of the goods of my shop, worth Tk 25 lakh, were looted. I fled the shop only with shirt and a pair of trousers,” said Akhter Hossain, a Bangladeshi grocery shop owner in Johannesburg, the commercial city of South Africa.

Akhter, who has been staying there since 2011, said he never saw such huge violence there, though attacks by the locals on the immigrants, especially other Africans, were common.

Mobs suddenly attacked and looted nearly 40 shops in a neighbourhood of Johannesburg on Monday night. Some 18 of them are owned by the Bangladeshis, he said. “We tried to call police, but their phones were busy. Then we had no way and fled to save our lives.”

The next day, people from the Bangladeshi community took them to a temporary shelter. From there, they went to the houses of their friends or relatives. “I don’t know what to do now,” Akhter, who comes from Noakhali, said by phone.

Abdul Awal Tansen, general secretary of Bangladesh Awami League in South Africa, said Bangladeshis were affected by the violence and looting, mostly in the rural areas in Pretoria and Johannesburg. 

As per their estimates based on reports from different parts of South Africa, around 1,000 Bangladeshis running business in several hundred shops were affected, he told this correspondent over phone from Johannesburg yesterday.

He added that the Bangladeshi community opened two camps for sheltering those affected in Johannesburg. 

“We are looking at an option how we can help our fellow citizens so that they can start their business anew,” Tansen said.

As violence seemed subsided since Thursday, some are opening their shops, but most of them are not. They are still fearful of further attacks. Therefore, they are guarding their shops throughout nights, he added.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday condemned the violence, which led to the deaths of at least 10 people and injuring of several hundred.

According to BBC, Ramaphosa in a video statement said: “There can be no excuse for the attacks on the homes and businesses of foreign nationals, just as there can be no excuse for xenophobia or any other form of intolerance.” 

Officials of Bangladesh High Commission in South Africa say there are around 3 lakh Bangladeshis there. A small portion of them are professionals, and others are mostly engaged in business. 

Shabbir Ahmad Chowdhury, Bangladesh’s high commissioner to South Africa, on Thursday visited some areas in Johannesburg, where shops of Bangladeshis were looted by the mobs, and listened to the expatriates.

In a video message uploaded on Facebook, he asked the Bangladeshi expatriates to be careful when they went outside homes.

“Please cooperate with police if you face problems. You also let us know in detail so that we can address your issues,” Shabbir said, adding, “If you are aware of the criminals, please inform the police.” 

Meanwhile, South Africa has temporarily closed its diplomatic missions in Nigeria following reprisal attacks by Nigerians triggered by xenophobic violence in South Africa, reports BBC.

In response to the violence in Johannesburg, two of Nigeria’s top musicians, Burna Boy and Tiwa Savage, announced they were boycotting South Africa.

Air Tanzania, national carrier of Tanzania, has suspended flights to Johannesburg because of the violence. 

Madagascar’s football federation has announced that it will not be sending a team to play South Africa in a friendly on Saturday because of security concerns.