Hundreds of Malawians fleeing the anti-immigrant violence in South Africa are heading home in a fleet of buses. They are among the foreign nationals caught unawares by a wave of xenophobia that suddenly burst upon them.
Some 300 Malawians were expected to arrive home on Monday in buses specially hired to bring them to safety.
DW's correspondent in Blantyre, George Mhango, said that around 1,000 Malawians are believed to have been caught up in the wave of xenophobic violence in South Africa.
At least three Malawian nationals are known to have been seriously injured. They reported losing their travel documents and other possessions.
Some Malawians are still in South Africa at camps in Durban and Johannesburg.
Centers have been set up in Blantyre and Lilongwe to receive the Malawians who are returning home.
The Social Welfare Center in Malangalanga, Lilongwe said the returnees would be screened by Malawian police, immigration and welfare officials before being allowed to proceed to other destinations in the country.
'Bad and uncalled for'
At the Blantyre center, local resident Ellen Beka told DW she had many relations in South Africa and wanted to see "how many of them would arrive." Doreen Sraj, another Malawian waiting for the buses from South Africa, described the events unfolding there as "bad and uncalled for."
Immigrants who fled their homes because of threats and deadly attacks by South Africans said they were targeted in some cases by longtime neighbors.
At a tent camp in Johannesburg, immigrants told AP news agency on Sunday how they had hurriedly left the city's Alexandra township where mobs had attacked shops owned by people from other African countries, including Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia.
Veronica Lechaea from Lesotho, who has lived in South Africa since 2008, said the mobs had a clear message. They didn't want people with foreign passports in the country but just "people with South African IDs."
Lechaea had sought refuge in a camp set up on the grounds of an Anglican church by the South African charity Gift of the Givers.
She said she makes about $250 (233 euros) as an office cleaner in Johannesburg and sends half of the money back home to Lesotho to support her 12-year-old son, who is living with his grandparents.
Another refugee from the violence, Sandra Ngwanya, a chicken seller from Zimbabwe, said her neighbors had told her "we are going door to door, taking your stuff and beating you. So we want you to go back to your own country."
Another Zimbabwean, Tenyadayi Chimukako, told the Reuters news agency at a packed refugee camp outside Johannesburg that he had left his country because of the economic collapse.
"There are no jobs, even the food is hard to get," he said. "If I go back to Zimbabwe, I will starve."
At least seven people were killed last week and 307 suspects arrested in South Africa's worst ethnic violence since 2008, when 62 people were killed mainly in Johannesburg's townships.
Controversial traditional leader
South Africa's influential Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini described the anti-immigration attacks as "vile" on Monday.
Zwelithini has been accused of fuelling the unrest after local media quoted him as saying foreigners should leave South Africa. He said his comments were taken out of context.
Addressing thousands of supporters at a stadium in Durban, Zwelithini said "we need to make sure no more foreigners are attacked."
South African President Jacob Zuma has also condemned the violence and urged South Africans not to vent their frustrations on foreigners.
South Africa has made significant progress in delivering broad access to housing and basic services since the end of apartheid rule in 1994, but millions from the black majority still live in shanty towns. A quarter of the labor force is unemployed and youth joblessness stands at 60 percent.
"Our rainbow nation that so filled the world with hope is being reduced to a grubby shadow of itself," said the foundation of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, South Africa's Nobel Peace Prize winner, in a statement on the xenophopbic attacks.
Such sentiments may well resonate with Malawians disembarking in Lilongwe or Blantyre.