From Michael Malakata in Lusaka, Zambia
Thousands of Angolans who have lived in Zambia as refugees for more than half a century, are facing expulsion from the country following the cessation of their refugee status.
In an unprecedented move that will send shockwaves to millions of refugees living in many parts of the world, the new Zambian government of President Michael Sata is ending the refugee status of Angolans who fled to the country as far back as 1961 following armed conflicts that displaced millions of Angolans to other countries. More than 203,000 Angolans have been living in Zambia since then. They have been asked to make themselves available for reparation before June 30, 2012 or risk being arrested for ‘illegally living in Zambia’.
Since the end of the civil war in Angola in April 2002, over 180,000 Angolan refugees have voluntarily and safely returned and have been reintegrated in their country. “Today, only some 23,000 Angolan refugees remain registered in Zambia,” said Maxwell Nkole, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs.
A statement issued by Mr Nkole Wednesday April 25 said by June 30, the Zambian government will work closely with United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to effect the cessation of the refugee status for Angolan refugees in keeping with the relevant principles and procedures of international refugee law. Nkole said this has been necessitated by the fundamental changes that have taken place in Angola since the end of the civil war. “It is considered that those Angolan refugees remaining in Zambia who were granted refugee status on account of the civil war in Angola and the war of independence that preceded it, should now be able to reclaim the national protection of their country of origin.”
Taking into consideration the announcement and subsequent recommendations of the UNHCR, Nkole said the government of Zambia hereby declares, pursuant to Article 1C (5) and (6) of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, Article I (4) (e) of the 1969 Organization of African Unity Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa (conventions to which Zambia is party) will cease by June 30.
In this regard, Nkole added that the Zambian government will collaborate closely with the Executive of the Republic of Angola, UNHCR and other relevant partners to proactively pursue all feasible measures to facilitate the voluntary repatriation of affected Angolan refugees to their home country in safety and dignity prior to the effective date of cessation of refugee status.
The Zambian government is also considering ceasing the refugee status of Rwandan refugees who fled the country as a result of armed conflicts and have been living in Zambia since then. But unlike the Angolans, the Zambian government has offered to integrate Rwandan refugees into Zambia once the cessation of their refugee status is put into effect next year. Spokesperson of the Rwandan refugees in Zambia Jean Ndayisenga called on the Zambian government and the stakeholders to dialogue so that even the Angolan refugees can also be integrated in Zambia.
It is not clear why the Angolans seem to have been singled out for repatriation and not given a chance as to whether they wanted to remain in Zambia or not, having lived in the country for such a long time. In many countries where foreigners have been given refugee status, once they have lived there for at least ten years they can be allowed to seek that country’s citizenship. A Gallup poll conducted in Angola last year showed that only 16 per cent of Angolans approve of their country’s leader, Eduardo dos Santos who is one of the longest serving African leaders. The Zambia Episcope Conference (ZEC), one of the church mother bodies in Zambia, has been calling for the integration of refugees in Zambia in order to allow them to move freely.