The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Zambia has strongly advised 54, mainly Congolese refugees, who ran away from Mayukwayukwa Refugee Settlement on their way to an unknown country, to consider returning to the settlement as they did not possess valid travel documents nor gate passes.
The 54 refugees decided to leave Mayukwayukwa refugee settlement in Kaoma District last week, for an unknown destination away from Zambia in search of better prospects and have been camping in and around Mongu for almost a week. Yesterday, they presented themselves to Immigration authorities at Kazungula border Post with the intension of entering Botswana, but were denied entry by the Botswana authorities as they did not have valid travel documents. They have since been transferred to Livingstone for further formalities and organized return to Mayukwayukwa.
While in Mongu, the Government and UNHCR had engaged the 54 refugees directly in discussions on the matter, explaining the repercussions of their actions and the risk the group may encounter by crossing a border without proper documentation. However, despite appeals from the Government and UNHCR on the need for them to return to the settlement, the refugees have been resolute to go and seek asylum in another country, citing, among other things, lack of security following the recent attacks on foreign nationals in Lusaka and poor living conditions in Zambia.
UNHCR Representative in Zambia, Ms Laura Lo Castro, cautioned the refugees that while their concerns maybe legitimate, irregular movement by refugees is not allowed in the Southern African region, with countries having signed protocols to curb it. Therefore, the refugees were advised not to take actions that would jeopardize their refugee status in Zambia as well as the safety and security of their dependents.
“As UNHCR, our interest is to serve the refugees. We call on them not to pursue a journey that may put their safety at risk and may jeopardize their bonafide status in this country. We appeal to them to return to the camp where we would be better able to provide the necessary assistance” said Ms Laura Lo Castro. UNHCR acknowledges that while living conditions in the two refugee settlements may not be ideal, the agency, working with Government and operational partners, is doing all it can, within available resources, to ensure that they lead a decent and dignified life.
UNHCR wishes to take this opportunity to applaud the Government of Zambia for the attention provided to this group of refugees and for its decision not to apprehend them, but to let them free to move to a border post of a country of their choice.
The group was escorted by Zambian Immigration authorities back to Livingstone from where they will soon be relocated to Mayukwayukwa refugee settlement. There the group will benefit from personalized counseling and support by Government and UNHCR joint teams.