UN Refugee Chief Filippo Grandi concluded his two-day trip in Zambia on Friday with a visit to the Mantapala settlement, in the north of the county, where he met with refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and with hosting Zambian communities. He visited some of the facilities that they share, including the health clinic, a primary school, and the market established by UNHCR together with CARITAS Czech Republic. Grandi also went to the UNHCR’s protection counseling office and the safe space for girls, run together with UNHCR’s partner, CARE Canada.
The Mantapala integrated settlement was set up within the framework of the comprehensive refugee response in 2018, and incorporates both Congolese refugees and Zambian villages through an inclusive approach, that aims to ensure that support to refugees also benefits the host community. The refugee response is Government-led supported by UNHCR. WFP provides food assistance and UNICEF supports education, child protection and water and sanitation. UNHCR works also closely with non-governmental partners to support technical sectors, such as education, livelihoods and protection services.
“We should never forget that when refugees come to a country like Zambia, local people are the first to respond,” said Grandi. “Here, they have generously shared their meagre resources – including water, land, and firewood – and of course it is difficult. The presence of refugees impacts the environment and local infrastructure and places pressure on already-overstretched services. We have spoken to people both from the local community and refugees, and they have told us that they live in harmony together.”
At the school, Grandi interacted with the young pupils, who thanked the Government of Zambia for enabling them to continue to go to school despite being displaced. The Ministry of Education generously provides teachers and materials to the schools, but with 7,000 children the needs are immense. The class rooms are at times are filled with up to 500 learners at the time. After the session, the High Commissioner handed over 300 books and learning materials
to the Provincial Minister as part of UNHCR’s support to the Ministry of Education. UNHCR, with funding from the European Union, is also completing the school infrastructure in the settlement and building accommodation for teachers.
Earlier this week on Thursday, the High Commissioner met with President Edgar Lungu, to whom he reaffirmed the UN Refugee Agency’s commitment to advocate for additional resources to support the country’s comprehensive refugee response. Grandi noted that Zambia has demonstrated true solidarity with people forced to flee conflict, war and persecution. He specifically thanked the President and the Zambian people for the strides made towards the local integration of former Angolan and Rwandan refugees.
The UN refugee chief also spoke at the fifth Conference of African Ministers Responsible for civil registration in Lusaka. He highlighted the importance of documentation and registration of refugees and asylum seekers as well as the fight to end statelessness. He noted that millions of children in sub-Saharan Africa are left without a proof of their identity as their birth is not recorded. Grandi highlighted pledges to curb statelessness made by states at UNHCR’s annual Executive Committee gathering in Geneva earlier this month.
“Twenty African states, including Zambia, have made pledges related to birth registration. I think that we are moving in the right direction and I hope that this conference will be an opportunity to discuss more how to make those pledges a reality,” he said.
Grandi joined stakeholders from the Government, donor countries, UN agencies, NGO partners and refugees at a forum where they discussed the implementation of the Global Compact on Refugees, a framework adopted by the UN General Assembly last year, which seeks more predictable and equitable sharing of responsibility. Economic inclusion of refugees will be one of the topics under discussion at the Global Refugee Forum, a high-level meeting to be held in Geneva later this year. States, the private sector and other actors will announce high-impact contributions that will give refugees a chance to use and further develop their skills and contribute to economic growth in their host communities.
Zambia hosts over 84,000 refugees and asylum seekers in Mantapala, Mayukwayukwa and Meheba settlements, as well as urban refugees in Lusaka. Most are from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Angola, Rwanda, Burundi and Somalia.