Half of Zambian urbanites homeless

Zambia’s Finance Building Society (FBS) says the prevailing state of affairs is unacceptable. FBS acting chief executive officer Abha Chaturvedi said although Zambia had made progress in attaining food security, practically nothing had been done in terms of availing people with shelter which was a basic human right and also a basic need. He made the observation during the unveiling a range of products aimed at empowering a cross section of Zambians to access mortgage financing. “If you consider the people in rural areas, the number of Zambians with no access to shelter is even higher. This poses a challenge for building societies and other stakeholders to find ways of finding practical solutions to this matter,” he said. Chaturvedi said although a National Housing Policy was developed in 1996, the sad thing was that nothing had been done to implement it, hence unplanned settlements had continued to develop and grow across the country. “Now in line with President (Levy) Mwanawasa’s concern about this problem when he opened Parliament, we at FBS feel have a major role to play because housing for all is our reason for existence,” he said. The FBS products, dubbed “Securing Your Future”, incorporate Finsave and Finbuild, housing-linked facilities that enable clients to build or buy houses. Chaturvedi said to maximise the benefit to clients, the house-linked products were long term but aimed at growing members’ contributions in the short term. He urged building societies in the country to exploit the improving economic climate by harnessing resources even from the low end market and channel them into mortgage financing so that more Zambians could own shelter. The Secure Your Future products include two Finsave bonds which are shelter bond and housing bond that can be purchased in tenures of six months and 12 months. Finsave incorporates savings accounts for individual and corporate clients with minimum deposits of K50 000 and K500 000 respectively and interest of 6 percent per annum. The range also includes a Monthly Income Plan for those about to retire and National Housing Authority (NHA)-Linked Deposit Scheme, a plan that would enable clients to save towards buying NHA-built houses. Finbuild incorporates a Home Loan for clients to buy or build houses and a Staff Home Ownership Scheme for employers seeking to empower their workers with shelter. FBS business development manager Mkuzo Kuwani said: “The objective behind the launch of these products is to promote wealth creation amongst the Zambian public.” Meanwhile, a large number of asylum seekers, who are flouting Zambia’s laws by living outside settlement camps, pose a challenge to the United Nations’ repatriation efforts. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that at least 30 000 of the more than 100 000 refugees in Zambia are living illegally outside of the five settlement camps in the country. Mgbangson Lawrence, UNHCR’s senior protection officer in Zambia, told IRIN that a number of asylum seekers had defied the law, which requires that refugees remain in designated places, not to settle in urban areas like the capital, Lusaka. Refugees are allowed to leave the settlement camps for a period of up to a month, and sometimes for even longer, with permission from the authorities. In a bid to improve the refugees’ skills, the UNHCR has allowed professionals to work outside camps, and even set up businesses for a limited period. “Some of the refugees tend to beat the system by staying away; others lack knowledge about the law, but in most cases it’s a calculated attempt to break the rules and later stay in urban areas,” Lawrence said. Once the refugees are outside the camp, UNHCR is unable to monitor them or include them in their repatriation programmes. Those who settle outside the camps are not deemed illegal immigrants. “Refugees in urban areas are still refugees, although they might have flouted Zambia’s laws for refugees. If any refugee is arrested, the UNHCR negotiates with relevant authorities to release them and they are later taken back to their camps,” said Lawrence. Zambia is home to refugees from strife-torn countries as far away as Liberia, Sierra Leone and Burundi, but the majority are from Angola. During 27 years of civil war an estimated 500 000 Angolans fled to neighbouring countries, including Zambia. The asylum seekers have been allowed to access basic services, but none has been granted permanent residence. Many Angolans who have been living in Zambia for more than three decades have expressed the desire to stay on permanently. The UN refugee agency is to lobby the Zambian government for permanent residence for those refugees who have lived in the country for more than 10 years or are making a contribution to the economy. Zambia’s Commissioner for Refugees, Jacob Mphepo, said the authorities did not have a problem with the duration of the refugees’ stay, like the Rwandans and Angolans who had been living in Zambia for decades, provided they continued to stay on as asylum seekers. He pointed out that the government had made exceptions, and some refugees with special requirements ‘ study or profession-related ‘ had been allowed to stay in urban areas outside the camps for a specific period. This category of refugees also includes those who require special medical attention, face security threats or are destined for resettlement programmes in other countries.

March 2006
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