The Zambian Government has maintained an open door policy to refugees from war-torn countries since the 1960s. Since then, the United Nations has provided legal protection, shelter and food assistance to new arrivals as well as to vulnerable groups, such as the sick, elderly or disabled living in the refugee settlements.
“We are coming back for you if you are still here,” were the last words that Allan Ndazeye remembers hearing before falling unconscious. A mob of men had just beaten him senseless, attacked his wife and raped his 15 year-old twin nieces.
“I had heard of this happening before but until it happens to you, you don’t really think much about it,” Ndazeye says.
Such stories are common amongst Congolese refugees in Mayukwayukwa Refugee Settlement. Since 1966, hundreds of thousands of people have fled from nearby Angola, DRC, Rwanda, Burundi, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, Uganda and South Africa and have found protection in Zambia’s refugee camps managed by Government and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
The Ndazeye family arrived in March 2011 with only two bags and little money. In addition to legal protection and shelter, each new arrival is provided with monthly food rations of maize, cooking oil, beans and salt during their first year in the country. In efforts to reduce dependency and stimulate self-reliance, livestock projects and a micro-credit scheme have been introduced to boost the economic well-being of refugees after they settle.
New arrivals, however, encompass a small percentage of Mayukwayukwa’s population. The majority of refugees have lived in the settlement for many years, and created homes and families there.
Kafuti Mbambi fled Angola 45 years ago with seven family members, all of whom have since died in Mayukwayukwa. She was left with her sister’s four orphan grand children, a situation that has become very challenging since she developed health problems and can no longer work on her small plot of land. Without the continued support of the UN, she says she would not be able to care for her charges.