President Edgar Lungu has appointed an inter-ministerial steering committee to give guidance on the establishment of the Mantapala refugee camp in Nchelenge district of Luapula Province.

President Lungu appointed Home Affairs Minister Stephen Kampyongo (chairperson), Defence Minister Davies Chama, Health Minister Dr Chitalu Chilufya, Minister in the Office of the Vice-President Sylvia Chalikosa, Community Development and Social Services Minister Emerine Kabanshi, Local Government Minister Vincent Mwale, General Education Minister Dennis Wanchigna, and Luapula Province Minister Nickson Chilangwa as committee members.

Home Affairs Minister Stephen Kampyongo told the media at a briefing in Lusaka, Thursday, that President Lungu’s decision came following a refugee influx which hit Kenani refugee camp which had reached its maximum holding capacity of 14,500.

“In order to consolidate Zambia’s response to the Congolese refugee crisis, His Excellency, Mr Edgar Chagwa Lungu, President of the Republic of Zambia appointed an inter-Ministerial steering committee to give guidance on the establishment of the refugee settlement in Nchelenge district in Luapula province. Members of the committee are myself Minister of Home Affairs as Chairperson; Hon. Davis Chama, MP, Minister of Defence; Hon Chitalu Chilufya, MP, Minister of Health; Hon. Sylvia Bambala Chalikosa, MP. Minister in the office of the Vice president; Hon Emerine Kabanshi, MP. Minister of Community Development and Social Services; Hon Vincent Mwale, MP. Minister of Local Government [and Housing]; Hon Dr Dennis Wanchinga, MP, Minister of General Education and Hon Nickson Chilangwa, MP, Minister for Luapula Province,” Kampyongo disclosed.

Kampyongo disclosed that in a meeting which was attended by ex-official committee members, Permanent Secretaries for Home Affairs and Luapula Province, the United Nations Resident Coordinator, Officials from the office of the Commissioner for Refugees and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the interim committee was briefed on the challenges faced by the Kenani Refugee settlement.

“At present, there are more than 14,500 refugees hosted at Kenani refugee transit center in Nchelenge, the committee members expressed the urgent need to relocate the refugees to a suitable centre because the current site has reached its maximum holding capacity. In light of this, the inter-ministerial committee tasked the provincial technical committee on the establishment of Mantapala refugee settlement with the responsibility of ensuring proper planning, demarcation, placement of beacons and identification of official parameters to facilitate the gazetting of mantapala refugee settlement,” Kampyongo said.

Kampyongo said his committee was informed that US$6.6 million had been approved by the United Nations Central Emergency Relief Fund (CERF) to enable a number of UN agencies in Zambia to undertake specific projects towards the opening up of Mantapala settlement.

“In its deliberations, the committee further noted the need for funding and continued donor support in order to expedite the opening of the new settlement and assist the government in its effort to prevent the refugee influx from becoming a major humanitarian crisis. The committee was informed that USD 6.6 million had been approved by the United Nations General Emergency Relief Fund (CERF) to enable a number of UN agencies in Zambia (UNICEF, UNFPA, WHO, IOM, WFP, UNHCR) to undertake specific projects to support the opening up of Mantapala settlement. However, mobilisations of additional resources will be necessary to cater for the growing needs of the refugees and the host community as the current funding is inadequate,” he said.

And Kampyongo said the committee was committed to ensuring that a coordinated approach was taken in addressing the needs of the refugees in Luapula Province.

Meanwhile, UNHCR country representative Pierrine Ayirara thanked the Zambian government for remaining a unit of peace.

“On behalf of our high commissioner, I want to reiterate our deep appreciation to the people of Zambia. Of course we have started opening up Mantapala with the great support of ZNS and we have relocated altogether 220 people symbolically so that it can start living their lives. But of course, we intend to relocate more refugees as we progress and tomorrow we will be relocating 350 people. We have put in place temporary accommodation with capacity of 500 refugees and within three days time, these people will be able to construct their own shelters. Our commitment remains intact, we will not let these people down because we are here to share the burden with you. And as I will be traveling to Geneva tomorrow, I am going to convey your message to the high commissioner because Zambia remains a unit country when it comes to hospitality, solidarity, really, I am very fascinated,” said Ayirara.