Nigeria began repatriating more than 600 of its citizens from South Africa following a wave of deadly xenophobic attacks that frayed relations among neighbouring nations.

Private Nigerian airline Air Peace volunteered to fly people for free back to the commercial capital Lagos on Wednesday.

It was not immediately clear how many people boarded the flight, but Nigeria's government said it estimated 313 people were on their way home. A second flight departs on Thursday or Friday with 640 Nigerians in total fleeing the country.

The repatriation came after riots in Pretoria and Johannesburg killed at least 12 people as 1,000 foreign-owned businesses were targeted. The nationalities of those killed have not been announced but Nigerians, Ethiopians, Congolese, and Zimbabweans were attacked, according to local media.

Al Jazeera's Fahmida Miller reports from Johannesburg, South Africa.

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