Last Updated: Friday, 15 December 2017, 16:28 GMT

World Refugee Survey 2008 - Zambia

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 19 June 2008
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, World Refugee Survey 2008 - Zambia, 19 June 2008, available at: [accessed 17 December 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

ZMB figures


Zambia hosted nearly 113,200 refugees and asylum seekers, roughly 55,400 refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo (Congo-Kinshasa), 40,800 from Angola, 4,000 from Rwanda, and some 1,400 from Burundi. Most of the Congolese refugees in Zambia sought haven from civil war between 1996 and 2002. Angolans began arriving in the 1970's with the outbreak of their civil conflict which lasted nearly three decades, while many of the Rwandans arrived in the wake of the 1994 genocide.

A repatriation program for Congolese refugees began in May, but the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) suspended it after insecurity forced its staff out of the town of Moba in Katanga, the return area of Congo-Kinshasa in August. The operation resumed in November and some 7,300 refugees of the originally targeted 20,000 refugees repatriated.

Close to 60,000 refugees lived in camps and settlements, while 50,000 mixed in with the population throughout the country. Two refugee camps, Kala and Mwange were in the north, as was Meheba settlement, while Mayukyukwa settlement was in the northwest.

Refoulement/Physical Protection

While there were no reports that the Government deported recognized refugees and asylum seekers during the year, Zambia may have deported refugees without notice because its Refugee Act lacked provisions that protected against refoulement.

Zambia was party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (the 1951 Convention), its 1967 Protocol, and the 1969 Convention governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa, but maintained reservations to the 1951 Convention's right to work, education, freedom of movement, and international travel documents. The 1970 Refugees Control Act (Refugees Act) did not specifically protect refugees from refoulement, though it forbade deportation in cases where the refugee would be at risk of physical attack or punishment for an "offence of a political character." Otherwise, the Refugees Act authorized officers to deny asylum without any reason. The Refugees Act also permitted the Minister to declare groups of persons to be refugees, prima facie.

Joint provincial and district operations committees received and screened asylum seekers in border areas, and most refugees they screened received status on a prima facie basis. Committees sometimes referred cases of asylum seekers with individual persecution claims to the Lusaka-based Office of the Commissioner for Refugees. The National Eligibility Committee (NEC), including a representative from UNHCR as an observer and adviser, would then conduct an individual status determination. The NEC granted refugee status in 47 of the 162 cases it received.

There was no appeals procedure, but asylum seekers could request a second interview by the NEC or ask the Minister of Home Affairs to review the case. Zambia did not allow refugees to have legal representation, but UNHCR occasionally intervened on behalf of asylum seekers. Officials only verbally informed rejected asylum seekers of that the NEC would review their rejections.

Zambian legislation did not permit the granting of permanent residency or citizenship to refugees, because the Constitution and the Citizenship Act required ten years of "ordinary residence" for eligibility, and the Government did not consider refugees ordinary residents.

Detention/Access to Courts

Zambian immigration authorities detained refugees and asylum seekers for staying outside assigned areas and working or studying without authorization. They also detained asylum seekers who entered or stayed without documentation. UNHCR interviewed 72 refugees and asylum seekers in detention in Lusaka and others outside the capital.

The Government did not separate refugees in pre-trial detention from the general prison population, subjecting them to severe overcrowding, poor sanitation, and inadequate food. The Chair of the National Human Rights Commission, called the detention conditions "inhuman." The Government allowed UNHCR, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and diplomats to visit facilities but there was no systematic monitoring of refugee detention.

While refugees and asylum seekers could challenge their detention in court, they could not challenge other restrictions because of Zambia's reservations to the 1951 Convention.

The Immigration Department issued asylum seekers permits pending resolution of their cases. The Refugees Act required refugees to register with the Government and entitled refugees to identity documents, but the Government did not issue identity cards to camp- or settlement-based refugees. It issued electronic identity cards only to those who registered in urban areas based on the decisions of the Sub-Committee on Urban Residency. Authorities tended to respect the documents but occasionally officers detained refugees and asylum seekers holding valid documentation and some extorted bribes from them.

The Constitution granted fundamental rights to all persons in the country, not limited to citizens, including the rights to life, liberty, property, protection from torture or degrading treatment, and protection of the law. It included, however, exceptions to the right to personal liberty in the cases of people who entered the country illegally and for cases in which the Government wished to ban people from traveling to certain parts of the country. The Constitution extended its due process guarantees to persons generally, including those of presumption of innocence, notice of charges, assistance of counsel, examination of witnesses, interpretation of proceedings, punishment only for actions criminal at the time of commission, protection from double jeopardy and compulsory self-incrimination, and impartial tribunals.

The Refugees Act allowed officers to arrest refugees without warrants if they reasonably suspected them of even attempting to violate the Act. Violations included failure to obey or obstruction of "any lawful order of the Commissioner or a refugee officer" and carried penalties up to three months' imprisonment. The Act authorized officers and anyone acting under their authority to use "such force, including the use of firearms, as may be reasonably necessary to compel any refugee to comply with any order or direction made or given under this Act" and gave officers immunity from "any liability, action, claim or demand whatsoever" for their actions under the Act.

Freedom of Movement and Residence

The Government required refugees to live in refugee camps or settlements, and more than half of them did so.

Zambia maintained its reservation to the 1951 Convention reserving authority to designate where refugees could live. The Refugees Act authorized the Minister to designate settlements and to require refugees to live in them and allowed officers to issue permits to leave or reside elsewhere "subject to such terms and conditions as [they] think fit."

Refugees could qualify to live in urban areas if they met certain conditions, including whether they held work, study, or self-employment permits; had family living in urban areas; suffered from health problems not treatable in the districts; or were at risk of serious physical harm in the camps. The Sub-Committee on Urban Residency decided on urban residence applications. Many refugees continued to live in urban areas without identification anyway. At the end of August, UNHCR and the Government began registering refugees authorized to reside in urban areas.

Refugee who traveled outside these areas without authorization risked arrest and detention by immigration authorities. The Refugees Act required camp-based refugees to have a gate pass from the Refugee Officer to exit camps or settlements. Refugees in cities wishing to travel within the country had to obtain authorization from the Commissioner of Refugees.

About 120 refugees wishing to travel outside Zambia applied to UNHCR, which forwarded their applications to the Office of the Commissioner for Refugees, which authorized the Passport and Citizenship office to issue them travel documents. Like nationals, they had to provide reasons for traveling before the Government would issue documents. Zambia maintained a reservation the 1951 Convention's right to international travel documents and reserved the right not to allow refugees who left the country to return.

Right to Earn a Livelihood

Refugees had to have permits to work legally, and obtaining them was a long and difficult process. Refugees who wished to work had to submit an application for a permit to the Office of Immigration with a letter from the Commissioner of Refugees. Work permits cost up to $500 annually. The Labor Department of the Office of Immigration ensured that there were not enough Zambians to fill the positions, usually in the fields of medicine, nursing, and education.

Refugees and asylum seekers enjoyed the protection of labor legislations as did nationals but could not receive state benefits such as pensions or old age and disability allowances.

Refugees and asylum seekers applying for self-employment permits had to invest $25,000 in Zambia. Those who worked without authorization risked arrest, detention and prosecution.

Zambia maintained its reservation to the 1951 Convention's right to work, reserving the right to require refugees to apply for permits and to grant them rights no more favorable than those of aliens generally. The 1967 Immigration and Deportation Act, amended in 1994 (IDA), prohibited all foreigners from working, doing business, or studying at institutions without permits. The Chief Immigration Officer (CIO) could issue permits to persons already in the country only if they had sufficient qualifications, education, skill, and financial resources; there were not enough persons available in Zambia; it would likely benefit the inhabitants generally of Zambia; and the Minister directed the CIO to issue them. The permits could specify conditions on the area in which the bearers could work and the kind of work they could do, "as the Chief Immigration Officer thinks fit." The validity of the permits could be for as short a period as the Chief Immigration Officer thought fit, with possibility of renewal but to a maximum of five years from its issuance.

The IDA required an entry permit for any foreigner to engage in business. This required knowledge of English or an indigenous Zambian language and the permission from the Minister of Home Affairs. Applicants also had to meet the requirements of a work permit or have sufficient money to maintain themselves and their presence had to benefit the inhabitants of Zambia.

The Refugees Act permitted authorities to restrict the use of or commandeer refugees' vehicles and to regulate refugees' keeping of livestock and even to force their sale or slaughter without compensation. While refugees could hold bank accounts and own cars, they could not own, hold title to, or transfer real property such as business premises and farmland.

Public Relief and Education

The Refugees Act restricted access to the settlements but the Government allowed humanitarian agencies to aid refugees. In camps, UNHCR funded and supervised health centers run by its partners to provide basic health services to refugees and the local population.

Zambia maintained reservations to the 1951 Convention's right of refugees to primary education. UNHCR provided primary education in camps and settlements.

Zambia's December 2006 Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) prepared for international donors identified "lack of legal entitlements for refugees" as one of the "key risks for the most vulnerable groups in society." It noted that "reservations on the articles of the 1951 Convention, which guarantee refugees' freedom of movement and access to employment, requires special attention." According to the PRSP, the Ministry of Home Affairs would include refugees in national and regional development policies and "promote compliance and domestication of international covenants vis-à-vis the protection of refugees." The PRSP also identified the Zambia Initiative (ZI) – a program launched by the Government and UNHCR in 2002 to promote integration through programs for both refugees and Zambians – as a success of the Public Safety and Order sector.

Current district and provincial development plans did not include refugees in their statistics or in their development strategies, including those in the western and northern provinces where the ZI took place.

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