One Zimbabwean has been killed and about 800 others displaced, foreign affairs minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi has said as deadly attacks on immigrants continue in South Africa.
Aid groups said foreigners were now arming themselves with machetes to protect themselves from the attackers.
In Johannesburg, where looters ransacked foreign-owned shops earlier this year, immigrants shut their shops to avoid possible violence.
2,000 foreigners have since sought shelter in refugee camps in the coastal city of Durban, South African aid group Gift of the Givers organization reported Wednesday.
“They’ve lost their houses, they’ve lost their businesses, they’ve lost everything,” said Imtiaz Sooliman, spokesperson for the aid group.
According to Mumbengegwi, some 800 of the displaced were Zimbabweans.
So far, it has been established that one Zimbabwean has died,” he said.
“As a result of these reports, Government decided that those Zimbabweans wishing to return home be facilitated to do so immediately.”
Home affairs minister Kembo Mohadi said the government was concerned about the welfare of Zimbabweans in areas affected by the violence.
“We are worried about the welfare of our citizens and we will not watch helplessly our nationals being subjected to such treatment,” he told NewZimbabwe.com.
“We have engaged our counterparts and also trying all means possible to help them.”
Mumbengegwi said the government was putting in place logistical arrangements to enable Zimbabweans to return home.
“An inter-ministerial team has been put together at both ministerial and senior official level,” he said.
“The team is expeditiously putting in place the logistics as well as the resources necessary for this exercise in close liaison with the Zimbabwean Ambassador in South Africa and his staff.”
Aid groups warned refugee camps established in Durban would not be able to cope with the numbers if the violence continues.
Five people have been killed and 74 people arrested since attacks against immigrants began at the end of March, said SA police spokesman Jay Naicker in a statement.
In Malawi, officials have set up transit camps expected to house Malawians returning to the country, said Information Minister Kondwani Nankhumwa.
South Africa, with a population of about 50 million, is home to an estimated five million immigrants.
Unemployment is officially around 25% but is widely believed to be much higher, and youth joblessness is nearer 40%.
Some politicians and residents say immigrants are in the country illegally and accuse them of committing crimes and taking over local shops and jobs.
In 2008, more than 60 foreigners were killed in similar unrest as locals vented frustrations over various issues, particularly a lack of jobs in the continent’s second most advanced economy.
The refugee camps, set up on sports fields around Durban, will not be large enough if attacks on immigrants continue, said Imtiaz Sooliman, of the Gift of the Givers organization. Those who can afford it are planning to leave the country, he said.