Government has granted temporal residence permits to 1,468 former Rwandan refugees at Maheba Refugee Settlement in Kalumbila district of North Western Province, marking the beginning of a process that will lead to local integration of about 4,000 refugees in Zambia.

During a ceremony at Maheba Refuge settlement yesterday, Minister of Home Affairs Stephen Kampyongo announed that government intended to locally integrate 4,000 Rwandan former refugees, some of whom had been living in Zambia for 24 years.

“As government, we are committed to the local integration of former refugees in Zambia, but we need international solidarity to continue to support the unfinished legal and socio-economic interventions, ” said Kampyongo.

And United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) country representative Pierrine Aylara, thanked government and people of Zambia for their legendary generosity and hospitality toward refugees from various countries and the former refugees.

Aylara encouraged the former Rwandan refugees to continue contributing positively to Zambia’s society, respect Zambian laws and leave peacefully with the host communities.

“Refugees feel at home in Zambia and they highly appreciate the hospitality of Zambia. UNHCR encourages the government of Zambia to continue supporting the refugees and former refugees, who should now be included in the country’s development plans. UNHCR, in close coordination with the Office of the Commissioner for Refugees, will continue supporting the government in mobilizing development partners to facilitate the socio-economic integration of refugees. Despite some challenges in recent years, I am pleased that both the government of Zambia and former Rwandan refugees, who can now be called new residents of Zambia, have made the decision to regularize their stay in the country, giving them an array of rights which will facilitate them and their loved ones to become self-reliant and contribute to Zambia’s social and economic development,” said Aylara.

“I also wish to particularly thank the Office of the Commissioner for Refugees for its leadership and exemplary role that has led to all of us be gathered here today. Similarly, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the provincial administration in North Western province, the authorities of Solwezi and Kalumbila districts, the traditional leadership as well as the Zambian host communities around Maheba who have not only given land to our fellow brothers and sisters, but have for decades opened their arms to receive and host those who have been forced to flee their homes in the region and beyond. I also wish to acknowledge the efforts and support that have been undertaken by the Department of Resettlement and UN agencies under the socio-economic component of the local integration programme in Maheba and Mayukwayukwa resettlement schemes. Their efforts have not only benefited Angolans and Rwandans, but more importantly have equally benefited Zambians.”

Zambia currently hosts over 74,000 refugees and other persons of concern mainly in Meheba Settlement, in North-Western Province, Mayukwayukwa in Western Province and Mantapala, in Luapula Province. The country also has transit centres in Lusaka’s Makeni area and Kenani refugee settlement in Nchelenge, with others self-settled across the country.