UNHCR declares DRC asylum seekers’ influx into Zambia an emergency

HOME affairs minister Steven Kampyongo says the current influx of asylum-seekers from the Democratic Republic of Congo into Zambia has been declared a level one emergency by the UNHCR.

And Kampyongo says the number of refugees entering Zambia through Nchelenge and Chiengi districts in Luapula Province has strained health and other social infrastructures.

Giving a ministerial statement in Parliament today, Kampyongo noted the current influx of asylum-seekers into Zambia and called for pro-active preparedness on the part of the government and its partners.

“This is particularly so because the situation is likely to deteriorate into a humanitarian emergency. The current influx of asylum-seekers has been declared a level one emergency by the UNHCR. Most asylum-seekers are entering the country through Chiengi district in Luapula Province. We have registered 3,700 asylum-seekers since August 2017,” Kampyongo said.

He added that the figure was the highest number of refugees to enter Zambia over the past five years.

“The total number of Congolese refugees in Zambia has now increased to about 30,000 in total. These, together with refugees from Burundi, Somalia and other countries as well as the former refugees from Angola and Rwanda, bring the total number of persons of concern in the country to over 60,000. The main cause of the recent influx of asylum-seekers from the DRC is instability in that country arising largely from the protracted governance crisis that has engulfed the DRC owing to its failure to hold presidential and general elections on schedule,” he noted.

The minister further indicated that about 25 to 100 people have been crossing from the DRC into Zambia every day since last month.

“This trend is expected to continue as the situation in the DRC is projected to remain volatile. The number of asylum-seekers entering Zambia from the DRC could, however, increase significantly with any deterioration in the security situation in that country. Worst scenarios suggest a mass influx of asylum-seekers of more than 40,000 from the DRC into Zambia. The majority of asylum-seekers received so far have been predominantly children and women, including expecting mothers,” Kampyongo explained.

And Kampyongo said the number of Congolese refugees crossing into Zambia have overwhelmed social amenities.

“The asylum-seekers have strained the health and other social infrastructures, particularly in Chiengi and Nchelenge districts. There is also lack of shelter and adequate clean water supplies, especially at border entry points and indeed in the refugee temporary settlements. An assessment carried out by the Ministry of Health and partners has observed acute to mild malnutrition among the refugee children, three of whom have since died as a result while one died of malaria,” Kampyongo disclosed.

He further noted that the office of the Commissioner for Refugees launched a refugee response immediately the increase in the number of asylum-seekers from the DRC was noticed.

“The response is based on the preparedness and contingency response plans that had been formulated in anticipation in conjunction with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and other United Nations agencies in June, 2016. The response capacity of the government, UNHCR and other partners is, however, limited and has already been stretched to the limit by the number of asylum-seekers so far screamed and taken in,” said Kampyongo.

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