Last Updated: Friday, 20 October 2017, 11:43 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2001 - Zambia

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 20 June 2001
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2001 - Zambia , 20 June 2001, available at: [accessed 22 October 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.

Zambia hosted approximately 255,000 refugees at the end of 2000, including more than 190,000 from Angola, up to 60,000 from Congo-Kinshasa, and some 5,000 from other African countries such as Rwanda and Burundi.

Border Violence and Displacement

Warfare in neighboring Angola and Congo-Kinshasa created insecurity in Zambia's border areas, forcing more than 10,000 Zambian villagers to flee their homes during 2000 and negatively affecting local sentiments toward refugee populations living in Zambia. Sporadic armed incursions from Angola and Congo-Kinshasa were accompanied by looting, abductions, large-scale theft of cattle, and loss of lives.

During the first half of the year, cross-border attacks from Angola into western Zambia displaced thousands of civilians. UNICEF, which was responsible for coordinating humanitarian assistance to newly displaced families, registered some 10,000 internally displaced persons in Zambia's Northwestern Province in June. Most fled from three border villages toward the interior. Many sought refuge among the local population. Others found shelter in schools and other public buildings. Many uprooted families received food and medical supplies.

"The Angolan incursions are growing more frequent, and it is very difficult for us to deal with this situation," a UNICEF official stated. Security improved somewhat after Zambian troops were deployed to the border. Most displaced families had returned home by the end of 2000.

Zambian government officials accused both sides in Angola's civil war of entering Zambian territory and terrorizing villagers. The two countries created a Joint Permanent Commission on Defense and Security in July. The Commission served to investigate incidents of border incursions, improve communication, and reduce tensions along the countries' common border. However, Angolan combatants continued to cross the border to steal cattle. In September, bombs from an Angolan government attack on a nearby rebel position struck a Zambian village.

During the second half of the year, banditry and abductions also increased along Zambia's northern border with Congo-Kinshasa. The presence of armed combatants fleeing with refugees from both Angola and Congo-Kinshasa increased anxiety among local Zambians and contributed to growing hostility toward refugees in general.

At year's end, Zambian president Frederick Chiluba asked donor countries to increase their funding for UN peacekeeping and humanitarian operations in Africa, noting that "the mere presence of refugees on any territory impacts on the local resources of the host country, and the task is daunting for a developing nation like Zambia, which has competing development problems in the face of limited resources."

Refugees from Angola

An estimated 190,000 Angolan refugees remained in Zambia at year's end. The vast majority arrived during several decades of civil war in Angola. Some have been in Zambia since 1971. An estimated 30,000 new Angolan refugees fled into western Zambia during 2000.

The total number of Angolan refugees in Zambia remained highly speculative because the vast majority were self-settled in local communities in western Zambia and received little or no aid.

Early in the year, thousands of refugees fled into western Zambia to escape an Angolan government military offensive. Heavy rains and flooding stranded newly arrived refugees on a 100-mile (160 km) stretch of border located along the Zambezi River. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) established a new refugee camp at Nagweshi, 75 miles (120km) from the border in Western Province, to accommodate the influx. By March, UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) transferred more than 9,000 refugees to the new location. The World Food Program (WFP) announced that it would provide $2.6 million in emergency food aid for the new influx of refugees.

Angolan refugees continued to arrive in steady groups throughout the year. Some 500 to 1,000 new refugees arrived each month from May to August because of the Angolan government's continued offensive in that country's civil war. The influx rose sharply in September and October, when some 10,000 Angolans crossed the border because of another government offensive in Angola's remote eastern area. UNHCR reported that the new arrivals were primarily women and children and most were in "fairly satisfactory physical condition."

UNHCR transferred new arrivals to existing refugee sites: the sprawling Meheba settlement in North Western Province and Mayukwayukwa settlement in Western Province. Mayukwayukwa, established almost 35 years ago, grew from 10 camps to 28 camps. Local authorities gave refugees plots of land to farm. International aid agencies rapidly increased the capacity of water, sanitation, and medical facilities in the camps. WFP provided food aid to some 70,000 refugees.

More than 300 Angolan combatants and their families fled into Zambia during the last several months of the year. Zambian military disarmed them, and UNHCR and Zambian authorities began to conduct individual screenings to determine the combatants' refugee status. At year's end, UNHCR and IOM transferred some 2,000 refugees to a newly established camp for former combatants and their families, in Ukwimi, located in Eastern Province about 190 miles (300 km) east of the capital.

Refugees from Congo-Kinshasa

As many as 60,000 refugees from neighboring Congo-Kinshasa (also known as Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly Zaire) remained in Zambia at year's end. Approximately 12,000 fled the outbreak of civil war in Congo-Kinshasa in late 1998. As many as 15,000 refugees fled continued warfare in 1999. As the war in Congo intensified in late 2000, up to 25,000 new Congolese refugees fled into Zambia. Thousands of urban refugees living in or near the capital, Lusaka, also originated from Congo-Kinshasa.

The exact number of Congolese refugees remaining in Zambia at year's end was difficult to estimate because population movements across the border remained fluid. As in years past, thousands returned home on their own, without assistance, despite Congo's continued civil war in 2000. Thousands of new Congolese refugees arrived in Zambia and found shelter among the local population without international protection or assistance.

Between January and April, an average of 50 Congolese refugees a day fled into Zambia, according to UNHCR. By August, UNHCR estimated that approximately 30,000 refugees from Congo-Kinshasa lived in two transit centers and one camp in northern Zambia, and an additional 15,000 self-sufficient refugees lived among the local population.

In November, a rebel offensive in Congo-Kinshasa caused a new influx of refugees into Zambia. The situation was chaotic. A UNHCR spokesman said the relief agency was rushing more staff and supplies to the area, "but we desperately need more medicine, clothes, and food for these people and the thousands more expected." The European Commission pledged $1.7 million in emergency humanitarian assistance.

Many refugees crossed the border into Zambia and returned to Congo-Kinshasa within 24 hours. Médecins Sans Frontières reported that one day after 10,000 Congolese fled into the Zambian border town of Chiengi, 90 percent promptly left to return to safe areas of Congo-Kinshasa or disperse to Zambian villages in the border area. UNHCR transferred several thousand new arrivals from Chiengi to Kala, a newly established camp in Northern Province some 90 miles (140 km) from the border.

About 4,000 soldiers – 3,700 Congolese and 300 Zimbabweans – fled into Zambia from Congo-Kinshasa with the refugees. Local security officials burned more than 700 shelters built by Congolese refugees because officials feared that armed elements among the refugees would create security problems. The Zambian government repatriated the Zimbabwean soldiers and disarmed and detained many Congolese combatants.

At year's end, UNHCR began status determination interviews for former Congolese combatants in detention. UNHCR planned to transfer the refugees to a camp for former combatants in Ukwimi, 190 miles (300 km) east of the capital.

Other Refugees

Zambia hosted several thousand refugees from various other countries, including Rwanda, Burundi, and Somalia. Many lived in or near Lusaka. Others settled in established camps. The Munyoni settlement in northwest Zambia housed more than 1,000 Burundians and Rwandans.

In 1998, UNHCR finished screening Rwandan refugees to determine their eligibility for refugee status. The results, however, were not made public. Political sensitivities surrounded the Rwandan refugee population in Zambia, as in other African countries, because of suspicions that some participated in the 1994 Rwandan genocide. As part of an effort to track down genocide suspects and witnesses, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda sought Zambian permission in December 2000 to interview soldiers who fled to Zambia from Congo-Kinshasa.

UNHCR and Zambian authorities began to register urban refugees in Lusaka during the year. Zambian immigration authorities detained hundreds of suspected illegal immigrants throughout the year. UNHCR cautioned in June that the government's ongoing exercise to identify illegal immigrants had produced a "state of anxiety among refugees in Lusaka."

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