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Mozambique struggles to accommodate refugees from South Africa

Xenophobic violence forced many to flee. Now, they face an uncertain future inside transit camps.

In transit: Regina and Mike Nhantumbo wait in a transit camp in Mozambique.

Stephanie Hanes

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Three weeks ago, Regina Nhantumbo was running – away from her home and her business, away from the mob dancing around another lynched Mozambican, away from South Africa.

Now, she is simply waiting.

Nearly 40,000 Mozambicans have crossed back into their home country since xenophobic violence swept through South Africa's squatter camps and townships in May, leaving dozens of people dead and hundreds injured. Thousands of Zimbabweans and Africans of other nationalities have also fled, ending up in transit camps where they, like Nhantumbo, wait and plan their next, uncertain move.

Meanwhile, regional leaders are scrambling to incorporate new refugees into already economically strained areas, while human rights experts warn about spreading instability. The violence may have subsided, they say, but its ripple effects are still coursing through the region.

"There are fears that if you bring people back, you don't give them jobs, you don't have a favorable economic situation – what do you expect them to do?" says Faten Aggad, a researcher at the South African Institute of International Affairs in Johannesburg. "People worry that [the newcomers] will commit crimes. It will certainly create tensions."


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