22 November 2012

Zambia: Heed Envoy's Advice and Go Back Home

NOW that peace has returned to Angola and the country is holding democratic elections in which eligible Angolan citizens are expected to participate, it just makes sense that those who fled that country because of conflict must return home.

There is nothing to fear as peace in that once war-torn country has now come to stay. In fact calls on Angolan refugees still resident in Zambia are not new.

They date back almost a decade ago, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has been encouraging and coordinating their repatriation.

Since the end of the civil war in Angola in April 2002, more than 180,000 Angolan refugees are reported to have voluntarily and safely gone back home.

They have been reintegrated in their country such that today, only about 20,000 Angolan refugees remain on the registers in Zambia.

In the past decades, Zambia had won plaudits from people in the region and at international level for its open-door policy towards refugees fleeing conflicts in their own countries.

At the height of the liberation wars in southern Africa, for instance, First Republican President Kenneth Kaunda embraced refugees from our neighbouring countries to the extent of declaring them as his guests.

He did not even care whether Zambia came under attack from forces of some hostile regimes that surrounded the country as long as refugees had a place to hide.

Thus many Zambians lost their lives at the hands of armed forces pursuing guerrilla fighters who had sought sanctuary in Zambia, but Dr Kaunda believed that the whole southern African region could not be at peace as long as some nations were not liberated.

For this reason, Zambia for many years played host to hundreds of thousands of refugees from Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa, not to mention those from such countries as Congo DR and those in Central Africa.

In fact, Zambia was the headquarters of South Africa's African National Congress and, in its early years, Namibia's Southwest Africa People's Organisation before it relocated to Angola.

But while refugees from these countries ran away from liberation wars, those from Angola were caught up in both the war for independence which started in 1961, and in the civil strife which engulfed the country just after independence from Portugal in 1974.It is among these refugees that Angolan Ambassador to Zambia, Balbina Dias Da Silva, says are survivors, some of whom are now "old people who left Angola for reasons of mistreatment enforced by colonialists."

It would appear that the civil war actually did much more harm to the economy, infrastructure and the people of Angola than the war for political independence that preceded it.

Mainly because of Angola's post-independence civil war between forces of the governing Movement for the People's Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and fighters of the Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), independent southern African states, including Zambia, had to contend with an influx of refugees from Angola.

In Zambia, Angolan refugees concentrated in camps at Mayukwayukwa and Meheba in Western and North-Western provinces, respectively.

However, there were also those who spontaneously settled across the country.

In conformity with the UN and African Union (AU) conventions on refugees, these brothers and sisters were granted refugee status which guaranteed them the right to stay in the country as long as conflicts continued in their country of origin.

Going by the UN and AU protocols, refugee status is not permanent but is intended only to protect those people who risk being harmed in their own country.

As Ms Da Silva said, Angola is indeed a resource-endowed country and its prosperity could only be harnessed if all of its citizens, including those living in Zambia, worked together in line with that country's programme of economic development and national reconstruction.

Of course we are well aware that there are some people who do not want to go back to Angola because they have established themselves through various business ventures and are doing quite fine.

There are others who were just born here in Zambia.

But their legal status and right to remain as a refugee in Zambia is no longer there, so we expect these people to regularise their stay in the country under the immigration law.

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