21 August 2007 United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres has assured refugees from several African countries living in Zambia that his agency will continue to assist them in their efforts to either return to their homes or to settle in local communities.
During a four-day visit, Mr. Guterres held discussions with Congolese refugees at Kala camp in northern Zambia, as well as with Angolan, Rwandan and Burundian refugees from Mayukwayukwa settlement in the western part of the country.
Responding to concerns about the slow pace of repatriation to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Mr. Guterres emphasized that UNHCR will resume and intensify voluntary return efforts as soon as conditions allow.
He also encouraged Angolans willing to return home to do so, despite the official closure of UNHCR’s assisted repatriation programme earlier this year. “UNHCR will continue to assist refugees to return to Angola, even after the closure of the organized repatriation,” he pledged.
While voluntary repatriation is the preferred solution for most refugees, the High Commissioner said he was aware of the need to pursue other options, including local integration.
He noted that a number of Angolan refugees in Zambia are married to Zambians or were born in the country and wish to remain there. “We are discussing with the Government to consider local integration for these refugees,” he said.
While in Lusaka, Mr. Guterres also attended the 27th summit of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) – which Zambia currently chairs – and held meetings with senior Government officials, diplomats and representatives of UNHCR and sister agencies.
During a meeting with Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa, Mr. Guterres stressed the need for the Government to find durable solutions for the refugees, including favourably considering local integration for some of them, and pledged UNHCR’s support in the development of host communities.
As part of his southern African tour, Mr. Guterres is currently in Mozambique and will head to South Africa later this week.