THE 2000 United Nations General Assembly's Resolution dedicated June 20th to the commemoration of the situation of refugees worldwide. Thus, since 2001, the International Community celebrates World Refugee Day (WRD), a day meant to raise awareness on the situation of refugees globally under a specific theme.
The 2012 theme is "One Refugee Without Hope is One too Many: Towards a New Life". This indeed is a significant theme considering that a life of a refugee is often a life without much hope as it is conceived as a life in transit.
The theme therefore is a call for individual countries and support agencies to be sources of hope for refugees even if it is one refugee, as that particular one is a human being who needs hope to live a meaningful life. Given this theme, how can Zambia enable refugees to live a life of hope?
The term refugee applies to a "person who has left their own country because of persecution and violence and is unable or unwilling to return to it". The 2011 statistics show the number of refugees standing at slightly more than 15 million worldwide.
Many refugees are products of armed conflict and government's persecution of those opposed to them. When refugees are forced to cross borders, for safety, into countries that enjoy peace and stability or relative economic development, they can be viewed, by some people from the hosting country, both with fear and compassion.
Fear because to an ordinary person, refugees are an unwelcome addition to the number of beneficiaries of national resources and opportunities while to governments and politicians, they pose a challenge of security.
At another level, refugees inspire compassion because they are human beings who have been forced to leave their homes and possessions and this sense of loss inspire pity.
Often times however, the fear overrides the compassion and it shapes how refugees are responded to by host countries and their citizens and the response will either give them hope or a life of no hope, which is no life at all.
Like a number of African countries, Zambia has been a host to thousands of refugees especially since the 1960s.
It has been a home to refugees from Angola, Mozambique, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Sudan etc. Zambia's political stability and relative peace makes it a preferred destination for refugees especially from neighbouring countries.
There are currently 48,000 refugees in Zambia. The number however will significantly reduce after 30th June since 23,000 Angolans refugees will face cessation of their status.
In a number of ways, Zambia has made significant strides in ensuring that the refugees it hosts live in hope.
Zambia provides opportunities and access to social services such as education and health, and to those with relevant academic and skills qualifications, employment.
The research done in 2011 by the Jesuit Centre For Theological Reflection (JCTR) to assess the extent to which refugees enjoy such rights as education and health, revealed that Zambia provided an environment within which both refugees and nationals do enjoy these rights within the available resources.
Such generosity must be encouraged as it gives hope to situations which would otherwise be hopeless ones. However, there are several other ways Zambia responds to the refugee problem that take away the hope that stems from the provisions of social services which ensure a better livelihood for refugees.
Among these are
The Encampment Policy
According to the Refugee Control Act, 1970, refugees belong to camps unless they have permission from the government Commissioner for Refugees somewhere else. Encampment serves as a mechanism to control the movements of refugees and very often, camps are strategically situated close to the border with the refugees' country of origin with the idea of repatriation in mind.
For refugees to leave the camp, they must seek permission from the refugee officer by submitting an application which specifies the time frame within which a refugee could be away from the camp and where they can go.
For many refugees, encampment is a great source of misery as it restricts their enjoyment of freedom of movement which is their right. A life characterized by restrictions in movement cannot be deemed as giving hope especially that many refugee situations in Zambia tend not to be temporal.
This entails one can spend their entire life seeking permission to move from where they are planted. If refugees have to experience hope at all, then camps should serve as short term responses to refugee crises.
Also, if refugees stay for more than a decade, then a solution such as integration should be found so that they (refugees) are enabled to live normal lives.
Stress on Repatriation as most important durable Solution
Permanent solutions to the problem of refugees include voluntary repatriation where refugees return to their country of origin, local integration, having the right to stay permanently in the host country and resettlement in the third country.
Most host governments are reluctant to grant refugees the option of local integration for various reasons and often encourage repatriation, a solution preferred by both refugees and support agencies.
Although repatriation is supposed to be voluntary, in some cases even those refugees who wish not to return are forced to return once the reasons for which they fled are no longer valid.
Even support agencies chant slogans such as "home sweet home" to encourage refugees to return home. How does a country of origin become "home sweet home" to a child of a refugee for whom Zambia has been home? What I am saying in other words is that refugees should be left to choose the durable solution which will give them much hope.
Zambia should therefore consider granting citizenship to those refugees who wish to integrate especially if they have been in Zambia for a period of more than 15 years.
Refugee children especially those who cannot identify much with the country of origin should be given options to either repatriate or remain in Zambia as citizens.
It is saddening to read article 16 clause 4 of the 2012 draft constitution on citizenship by registration which states a "child… of a person with refugee status in Zambia shall not be entitled to be registered as a citizen." Such a clause does not give refugee children options and need to be removed so that each case is considered on its own merit.
Zambia has definitely demonstrated its capacity to give hope to refugees by hosting thousands of refugees for decades and providing them with empowering tools such as education.
However, more needs to be done with regard to laws which often restrict the refugees' enjoyment of other human rights. Giving hope to refugees entails providing them with options such as living outside the camps once the emergence situation is over and being open to possibilities of local integration especially for refugees who truly wish to stay in Zambia.
It is also important that the public is educated on who a refugee is and that refugees, once outside
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