News and Views on Africa from Africa
Last update: 1 July 2022 h. 10:44
Subscribe to our RSS feed
RSS logo

Latest news


Refugees living in hard times

Refugees and asylum seekers in Zambia have had to bear the brunt of harsh living conditions. However, the Lusaka Urban Refugee Project strives to improve their lot.
Singy Hanyona

Refugees seeking asylum in Zambia have refused to be branded as the ones taking away jobs and causing unprecedented environmental degradation, hunger and poverty, in a country of about 10.3 million people.

On the dark side of refugee situation in Zambia, the stark reality is that life as a refugee in Zambia, is not easy.

"Finding food, water, good hygiene and sanitary conditions and other life necessities of life, is a daily struggle for us", says Diof Kubi, a refugee who fled the neighbouring Angola due to intolerable conditions, before the death of Africa's most notorious lebel leader, Jonas Savimbi.

On the environmental front, some analysts have argue that there is in fact "nothing wrong with someone running away or escaping war from a country under 'fire', and unprecedented social disintegration, to come to Zambia, cut a tree and burn a piece of charcoal from it".

Zambia hosts at present around 260,000 refugees. The country has a long tradition of hosting refugees that flee civil and political strife from throughout the region. In fact, Mayukwayukwa - in Western Province- is the oldest refugee settlement in Africa, established in 1966.

The bulk of Zambia's current load of refugees comes from Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi and Somalia, but in the past it has hosted refugees from Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa.

With the signing of peace in Angola early 2002, Angolan refugees began to repatriate spontaneously from Zambia, to their country. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Zambia, it is estimated that around 6,000 have returned to Angola so far.

But, not all Angolan refugees will return with the organised official voluntary repatriation this year-2003. Some would wait for their children to finish their education or training in Zambia and others said they would like to wait and see until they are sure peace has taken roots and landmines removed.

As the refugee crisis persists, the international community seems to be withdrawing their help to refugees living in Zambia. During the year 2002, lack of donations for the around 90,000 refugees that depend on food aid, forced the World Food Program (WFP), to halve the rations for several months. The standard ration of 2,100 kcal per person per day was thus reduced to 1,000 kcal. Increase in malnutrition, child mortality and eventually some riots followed.

The access to basic services such as education and health is also a handicap for refugees. Every shortcoming in the funds received by international agencies, mainly UNHCR, has sad consequences for the possibilities of the refugees to rebuild their lives in normality, even to live at all.

For those who come from cities and towns in their countries of origin, rebuilding life in urban areas is not an easy task either. Along with the poverty that Zambians in urban compounds also suffer, refugees have to endure an increasing xenophobic climate and legal restrictions to their freedom of movement and work.

In May 2001, official figures placed urban refugees (Lusaka) at about 14,000. The registration of refugees with a new electronic card has reduced this figure to 4,000. What has become of the remaining refugees, is unexplained.

Apparently they remain a presence in the compounds of Lusaka, albeit an undocumented one. The conditions to obtain a permit for residence in Lusaka remain unaffordable to most refugees. The consequences are hard in terms of ineligibility for public services, physical and legal insecurity.

In a bid to improve the living conditions of refugees, the Lusaka Urban Refugee Project has been established, to accompany, serve and advocate on behalf of the growing number of refugees residing in Lusaka. The Project operates from the Peace Centre, which is situated in a small house within a compound opposite Soweto Market within the heart of capital city.

A "Refugee Guide" is given to help refugees know the necessary steps they need to take once they are in Lusaka to avoid being arrested. Newspapers are provided to keep refugees informed of the current events. This is complemented with personal accompaniment to relevant offices, when necessary.

E-mail service for refugees is regularly available. In order to foster good communication and understanding between refugees and the local community, the language program has been given great importance; French is offered to Zambians while refugees are taught English, which is the official language of the country.

The Project does not offer material assistance, except under very discreet circumstances, but strives to empower refugees through information and training with a strong pastoral presence.

The Urban Refugee Project collaborates with the UNHCR, as an implementing partner in Lusaka. The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) is also working
with the Zamb8ian government, to ensure refugee services especially in the area of education are not duplicated.

Contact the editor by clicking here Editor