Zambia hosted some 239,000 refugees and asylum seekers at the end of 2003, including more than 170,000 from Angola, about 60,000 from Congo-Kinshasa, nearly 6,000 from Rwanda, some 2,000 from Burundi, and fewer than 1,000 from various other countries.

Nearly 20,000 new Angolan refugees arrived to Zambia during the year. Some 38,000 Angolan refugees voluntarily repatriated during 2003.

More than 5,000 new Congolese refugees arrived to Zambia during 2003.

Refugees from Angola

More than 25 years of civil war in Angola pushed about 200,000 refugees into Zambia. Some Angolan refugees have lived in Zambia since the 1970s, while others arrived as recently as 2003. Angola's war abruptly ended in mid-2002, enabling an estimated 25,000 refugees to repatriate spontaneously from Zambia in the second half of the year. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) officially launched its Angolan Organized Voluntary Repatriation Program in Zambia in July. During 2003, some 18,000 Angolans returned home under the UNHCR program. In addition, about 20,000 Angolan refugees repatriated spontaneously without UNHCR assistance. About 100,000 Angolan refugees continued to live on their own in villages and urban areas of Zambia. An additional 70,000 Angolans lived in Mayukwayukwa and Meheba refugee settlements, and in Nangweshi refugee camp in western Zambia. More than 2,000 former combatants and family members lived in another refugee camp, Ukwimi, in eastern Zambia.

Despite the end of the civil war in Angola in mid-2002, nearly 20,000 Angola refugees fled to Zambia during 2003. Most of the new arrivals were supporters of the former rebel movement known as the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). Humanitarian agencies distributed food to Mayukwayukwa and Meheba residents who arrived after 1998, while longer-term refugees supported themselves by farming and engaging in small business activities.

Mayukwayukwa and Meheba refugee settlements, which covered 60 square miles (160 square km) and 270 square miles (700 square km) respectively, offered ample farmland. Occupants of Nangweshi refugee camp remained largely dependent on food assistance, however, because farm plots near the camp were smaller and less fertile. Some 7,000 school-age children attended 45 schools in their refugee settlements and camps during the year. Humanitarian agencies also offered training to adults in literacy, tailoring, basket making, and other projects that might earn income.

UNHCR appealed to international donors to fund a special program, known as the Zambian Initiative, designed to help Angolan refugees and the impoverished Zambian communities hosting them by supporting irrigation and other agricultural projects, maternity wards and health clinics, more schools and vocational training programs, and improved roads and water systems.

Government officials and UNHCR hoped that the Initiative would demonstrate that "refugees are ... agents of development who can contribute to the local community." The governments of Japan, Denmark, Sweden, and the United States provided partial funding for the program, but the Initiative received a setback when the Zambian parliament failed to pass legislation granting citizenship to Angolan refugees who were born in Zambia or had lived there for 15 years.

UNHCR and humanitarian agencies continued to provide basic social services to Angolan refugees, but prioritized repatriation. The Japan-based Association for Aid and Relief provided landmine risk education, while Jesuit Refugee Service provided conflict resolution and Portuguese language training to repatriating Angolans. Agencies also provided HIV/AIDS awareness education, medical exams, identification papers recognized by Zambian and Angolan officials, and meals for the journey home. UNHCR rehabilitated rural roads and bridges, and constructed departure centers and rest stations along the return route.

Refugees from Congo-Kinshasa

Warfare in Congo-Kinshasa (also known as the Democratic Republic of Congo) has forced refugees into Zambia since 1998. More than 5,000 new refugees arrived during 2003. Congolese refugees primarily lived in two camps in northern Zambia, about 26,000 in Mwange camp, and 24,000 in Kala camp. More than 8,000 additional Congolese refugees lived in Mayukwayukwa and Meheba settlements, and in Zambian villages and urban areas. UNHCR drilled several new boreholes for water in Kala camp. More than 17,000 Congolese refugee children attended 10 primary schools in the camps, which continued to adhere to the Congolese curriculum. Refugee adults took skills-training courses in agriculture, carpentry, brick making, sewing, bee-keeping, and raising chickens. As in previous years, lack of adequate protection staff, reception centers for new arrivals, and poor communications in and around camps for Congolese refugees remained a concern of UNHCR.

Refugees from Rwanda and Burundi

Several thousand Rwandan refugees and asylum seekers who fled their country in 1994 have made their way to Zambia in recent years. Many arrived after living several years in neighboring Congo-Kinshasa and trekking hundreds of miles through that country to escape Rwandan soldiers pursuing them. In January, UNHCR and the Zambian and Rwandan governments signed a Tripartite Agreement, creating an organized repatriation program, which includes an information campaign, for Rwandan refugees and asylum seekers to return home voluntarily. Fewer than 100 Rwandans returned home during the year.


This 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.