Zambia says refugees welcome to stay
But that does not seem to be the case in Zambia, home to about 143 000 refugees.
The refugees in Zambia are a result of Africa’s civil wars and politically unstable regions, including Angola, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Somalia and Uganda, and are housed in a string of camps along its western and northern borders.
The recent exercise to repatriate Angolan refugees in the country has left some traditional leaders and ordinary citizens wishing they could at least stay a little longer.
The departure of the refugees is creating food shortages in and around the Zambian camps they have lived in for decades.
The majority of them were working on the farms and used to produce beans, rice, cassava, sweet potatoes and maize, which they sold cheaply to the Zambians.
At the Meheba refugee settlement for example, each family was allocated 2,5 hactares of arable land for cultivation.
“We provide all refugees with food rations for the first two seasons, after which they are expected to be self-reliant to grow their own food for consumption and sale. So far, Angolan and Rwandese refugees have proved to be very successful and viable farmers,” Khalid Mahgoub, a North-Western province field officer for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, told Irin recently.
The 2002 death of Angolan rebel leader Jonas Savimbi ended the country’s long-running civil war and the next year the refugees, some of whom had lived in the camps since 1970, began to return home.
More than 60 000 Angolans have been repatriated since 2003 and an additional 15 000 will return home by December this year, but they remain the largest group of refugees in Zambia, comprising about 72 000 people, of whom 49 000 have settled outside the camps.
“The total agricultural output for Meheba refugee settlement has fallen to unprecedented levels since the start of the Angolan refugee repatriation programme,” said agricultural officer Jones Maseka.
“Even within the camp, the situation is so bad that there is urgent need for relief food to save many lives.”
Meheba produced more than 10 000 tonnes of maize in the season before the repatriations began, but the most recent harvest only yielded 1 140 tonnes. Cassava under cultivation fell from 2 000ha to 20ha, while the sweet potato crop declined from more than 4 500 tonnes to less than 720 tonnes.
The refugees also established fish farms and sold their products beyond the camp’s borders, but of the 353 fishponds operating in 2002 only about 150 are left.
“Apart from the fact that many farming Angolan refugees have repatriated, those who have remained are uncertain of their future and, therefore, can’t go full throttle in farming. We are now seeing many of them selling their livestock and fish in the ponds. This is why we have recorded the sharp decline in production trends,” Maseka said.
Judith Lungu, dean of the University of Zambia’s agricultural school, said reduced food production at the camps could have been avoided if the government had taken precautionary measures.
“Refugees contribute a lot to food production. When they leave, the land should be given to people or organisations that will continue to use that land for productive farming. This is one way communities can somehow benefit from having hosted refugees,” said Lungu.
Zambia’s commissioner for refugees, Jacob Mphepo, said an initiative was being designed to bring together locals and refugee communities “to learn from each other”, but this would depend on funding. “It’s a pity that our people could not learn the tricks of successful farming from Angolans for more than 20 years.”
Meanwhile, the political reforms in force in Angola are a priority for the consolidation of the democratic and law-abiding state.
This was said by Angolan Foreign Affairs Minister, Joao Bernardo de Miranda while speaking at the 61st Session of the United Nations General Assembly.
Joao Miranda was representing Angolan head of state, Jose Eduardo dos Santos.
The head of the Angolan diplomacy explained that after achieving peace on April 4, 2002, the government established as a priority the execution of political reforms for the consolidation of the democratic regime and the law-abiding state.
In his opinion, the political prerequisites are the guarantee of peace, of political stability, respect of the rights of citizens and economic development.
“This is a serious commitment of the Angolan Government to which it will not be separated from, and mainly foresees the normal holding of periodical elections”, stressed the official.
On the social aspects, Joao Miranda affirmed that in four years of peace the Government resettled around 4,5 million displaced people and over 400 000 refugees.
In the ambit of this priority, over 200 000 ex-soldiers and their families have been inserted in socio-productive programmes concentrating on the rehabilitation of the economy and reduction of poverty.
In the same way, various infrastructures destroyed during the armed conflict are being reconstructed.