The United Nations refugee agency today urged the Zambian Government to halt the expulsion of refugees and asylum-seekers to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) after 36 individuals were recently sent back.
According to Melissa Fleming, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the affected individuals are from the Meheba refugee settlement in Zambia’s northwest.
Six people were sent back in February, including a pregnant woman, and another group of 30 were sent back earlier this month.
“The refugees,” said Ms. Fleming, “were given no explanation regarding the reasons for their deportation or the possibility of challenging the decision under Zambian law.”
They were deported following a security and police operation in Meheba on 24 February, which brought an end to a protracted demonstration by refugees, she noted. During the operation, a refugee woman was shot and killed, several others were injured and some 150 persons were arrested.
The 15,000 people at the Meheba settlement come from Angola, Burundi, DRC, Rwanda, Somalia and Uganda, and are among the 57,000 refugees currently hosted by Zambia, which has provided asylum for over 30 years to those fleeing war and civil strife in their homelands.
Ms. Fleming said UNHCR fully shares the Zambian Government’s interest in ensuring security and order in the refugee camps and settlements, and that refugees and asylum-seekers are bound to conform to the laws and regulations of the country.
“The consequence of their failure to do so, however, should be prosecution under national laws and not forcible expulsion to their country of origin,” she stressed, adding that a note verbale was sent to the Zambian authorities today expressing alarm at the recent developments.