Locally integrated former refugees in Zambia have appealed for more donor support in infrastructure development in the newly created resettlement schemes in Meheba and Mayukwayukwa, where those approved for integration by government reside.
At a National Advisory Group (NAG) meeting in the Zambian capital Lusaka early this week, attended by different stakeholders, including Government representatives and various co-operating partners, former refugee and Zambian farmers living in the two local integration resettlement schemes, were given the opportunity to present testimonies about life in their new location.
During the same meeting, the Office of the Commissioner for Refugees (COR) and UNHCR handed over to the Department of Resettlement, under the Office of the Vice President, and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the chair and co-chair roles of the National Advisory Group (NAG) on the Local Integration of former refugees in Zambia.
The handover took place on 13 December at a ceremony in the Zambian capital Lusaka presided over by the Commissioner for Refugees in the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Director in the Department of Resettlement, UN Resident Co-ordinator, UNHCR Representative and various stakeholders from Government, donor, civil society, private sector and UN agencies. The Commissioner for Refugees handed over the Chair role to the Director in the Department of Resettlement, with the UNHCR Representative to the UNDP Resident Representative, who is also the UN Resident Co-ordinator.
The former refugees applauded the Government for granting them permanent residency status and UNHCR for the initial support to new settlers and the rehabilitation of infrastructure, thanks to the support of various donors.
They added that while many former refugees were willing to relocate to the local integration resettlement schemes from the refugee camp side of Meheba and Mayukwayukwa, the vast area of the resettlement scheme dictated that more work on access roads, clinics and schools was necessary to make life easier for the new residents as they settle.
“We are happy with the plots of land given to us and the infrastructure built so far in the two resettlement schemes by UNHCR such as clinics, roads and primary schools, however, owing to the vastness of the two settlements, we appeal to our donors to build more schools – especially a secondary school – and clinics to shorten the distances our children and pregnant mothers have to travel to seek medical assistance. While the road from Road 36 to Kamiba in Meheba has been done, there is also need to do more access roads.
Improved infrastructure will encourage more former refugees to move to the new resettlement schemes” explained 56-year old Noah Kaholo, a former Angolan refugee from Meheba resettlement scheme.
A former Rwandan refugee from Mayukwayukwa, Leonard Nzabandola, informed the meeting that the Rwandans in Mayukwayukwa were ready to move to the resettlement scheme once plots were allocated to them.
A Zambian, Nsamba Ngombo, from Meheba, who has moved to the resettlement scheme, where former refugees are living with the host community, said that life in the resettlement scheme was so far fine, though some challenges were there.
Ireen Mweemba, a 45 year-old Zambian widow, has started a new life in Meheba Resettlement Scheme in 2014, following the death of her husband in 2012. The mother of seven children is predominantly involved in farming for subsistence.
Ireen, who is from the southern province of Zambia in Monze District, narrates that she had no means of survival after the death of her husband who was the family’s bread winner.
In her pursuit of alms from different people, someone advised her to consider applying to the Ministry of Home Affairs to be settled in the newly created local integration resettlement schemes to live with former refugees.
She heeded the advice and applied and was later settled in Meheba, where she currently grows different types of crops such as sweet potatoes, beans, vegetables, cassava and maize.
“My life has been transformed from despair to hope because of this local integration programme. When I lost my husband, I had nowhere to go,’ explained Ireen.
With the help of UNHCR, Ireen, being in a single headed household, has been helped with farming inputs, a house was built for her and an implementing partner, International Development Enterprise (IDE) is training her in better farming and entrepreneurial methods.
Most of the locally integrated former refugees and Zambians in the resettlement schemes are predominantly farmers, and in the past three years UNHCR, through various partners, has rehabilitated various infrastructure in the two settlements such as clinics, schools, roads and boreholes.
Furthermore, livelihood activities, to benefit both Zambians and former refugees have been implemented by the UN Refugee Agency. Some of the livelihood activities being undertaken include vocational training for youths, entrepreneurship and business mentoring and agricultural support.
‘We commend our donors for the continued support. We are confident that Government and donor support to this areas will continue even after UNHCR phase out from the socio economic component of the local integration program” said Ms Laura Lo Castro, the UNHCR Representative in Zambia.
The UN Resident Co-ordnator, Ms Janet Rogan, who was in attendance at the NAG meeting, expressed appreciation for this unique program, recognized in Africa and beyond.
The Government has expressed willingness to allow all those former refugees eligible for local integration, to move to the two resettlement schemes while their residency permits were being processed.
The NAG is an advisory body created in May 2014, and mirroring the Solution Alliance, a global consortium focused on linking development and humanitarian response to address – and possibly prevent – situation of forced displacement.
The Group has been meeting regularly, and consists of different stakeholders drawn from the government, co-operating partners, UN agencies, civil society, the private sector and academia.
Two resettlement schemes, Mayukwayukwa and Meheba, were established by the Government of Zambia using part of the land previously gazetted as refugee settlements in Western and North-western provinces, respectively, to host both Zambians and former refugees who have been granted permanent residency status, following government established criteria.
A three-year local integration strategy was launched by the Government of Zambia and UNHCR in 2014, with the UN Refugee Agency responsible for mobilising resources from co-operating partners to fund projects identified jointly with the government and the local communities themselves. The Office of the Commissioner for Refugees in the Ministry of Home Affairs has been in charge of daily administration of the two resettlement schemes and the refugee camps, as well as working with the Immigration Department and UNHCR, handling the legal pillar of the local integration program. The legal component comprises processing of documentation, including country of origin passports, issuance of alien cards and residency permits.
The L.I. targets to grant residency permits to over 4, 000 Rwandans and 20, 000 (all former Angolan refugees). Once granted permanent residence, the former refugees could later, if they so wish, apply for citizenship after 5 and 10 years, depending on whether they were born in Zambia or outside. So far, 10,792 Angolans have been screened and approved for local integration, with the Office of the Commissioner for Refugees receiving 1,689 passports issued by the Angolan Government, a prerequisite for granting permits. The Department of Immigration has issued 1,133 residence permits to former Angolan refugees. Among former Rwandan refugees affected by cessation, a total of 128 applications have been submitted to Government. Of these, 95 have already been screened for LI. A total of 25 former Rwandan refugees have already been issued with residence permits.
To date, a total of some 2,000 Zambians and Zambians have moved to their plots in the two resettlement schemes, where a land demarcation survey has been completed. Each eligible family has been provided with 5-hectares of land, and basic shelter structures, provided for the most vulnerable beneficiaries. The vulnerable families receive farming inputs and tools and are assisted with the initial clearance of their farms. They also receive structures completed with walls and tents to be used before the construction of their homes.
Zambia currently hosts 56,928 people of concern in the two settlements, urban areas and those that are self-settled in five provinces around the country.