Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari announced Monday afternoon that his government has "made arrangements for the immediate voluntary evacuation of all Nigerians in South Africa who are willing to return home."
"We will continue to put pressure on the South African Government to take concrete and visible measures to stop violence against citizens of other African nations," Buhari said in a statement. "The recurring issue of xenophobia and attacks on African nationals remains very worrying."
At least 640 Nigerian nationals in South Africa have already voluntarily registered to come back, according to Abike Dabiri-Erewa, head of the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, who told reporters on Monday that flights to bring them home will depart South Africa this week.
At least 12 people, including two foreigners, have died since xenophobic violence flared up in Pretoria, Johannesburg and elsewhere in South Africa this month. A number of businesses owned by immigrants from other African nations have been looted and destroyed, according to officials with the South African government's Justice, Crime Prevention and Security Cluster.
Dozens of people have been arrested in connection with the violence. Meanwhile, more than 750 foreign nationals were taking refuge at local police stations on Tuesday since coming under attack, the officials said.
The anti-immigrant violence has sparked protests and retaliation attacks against South Africans in Nigeria, Zambia and other countries across Africa in recent days.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has condemned the deadly violence and called on law enforcement to "maintain vigilance and firmness" when dealing with the individuals involved.
“Government will not allow sporadic lawlessness and violence to disrupt the safety and livelihoods of millions of South Africans and the majority of foreign nationals in our country who are law-abiding and have the right to conduct their lives and businesses in peace,” Ramaphosa said in a statement Monday. “Lawlessness, injury and death inflict a great psychological and economic cost that lasts long after victims are buried, arrests are made and streets are cleared. This cost holds back our country and undermines all the efforts we are making to grow a South Africa that offers opportunity to all who live in it."
Xenophobic attacks have plagued South Africa for more than a decade amid an increasing number of foreigners emigrating to the nation. Immigrants account for roughly 7 percent of South Africa's total population. That figure nearly doubled from over 2 million in 2010 to just over 4 million in 2017, according to an analysis by the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan American think tank.
A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in the summer of 2018 found that 62% of South Africans view immigrants as "a burden" on the country "because they take jobs and social benefits." The poll also showed that 61% of South Africans believe immigrants are more to blame for the nation's crime than other groups.
South African Minister of Defense Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula insisted during a press briefing Tuesday that the country "is not a xenophobic nation."
"Whoever is found on the wrong side of the law should be dealt with," she told reporters.