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Pavarotti ferry extends lifeline to Angolan refugees and Zambian hosts

News Stories, 17 August 2005

© UNHCR/K.Shimo
The Fernando Pavarotti ferry carries refugees, locals, commercial goods as well as repatriation convoys across the Zambezi river.

NANGWESHI, Zambia, August 17 (UNHCR) Two years ago, a group of international artists led by Italian Maestro Luciano Pavarotti donated a ferry and threw a lifeline to thousands of Angolan refugees living in a remote part of western Zambia, cut off from the rest of the country by the Zambezi river.

Every year between December and April, the Zambezi river floods the plains. In the absence of a bridge, the only way for the 24,000 Angolan refugees in Nangweshi camp to receive assistance has been through a ferry across the river. The old government-owned ferry kept breaking down, making the delivery of supplies irregular.

Then in 2003, a new ferry was donated to the Zambian government in Western province, funded by the proceeds of the "Pavarotti and Friends" charity concert for Angolan refugee children and named after the maestro's father.

Today, the Fernando Pavarotti ferry has not only assured the refugees and their host community of a steady flow of assistance, but also stimulated trade in the area and facilitated the refugees' repatriation to Angola.

The ferry, which can carry up to 63 metric tons, is stationed at Kalongola, about 20 km from Nangweshi camp, and is managed by Zambia's Ministry of Works and Supply on behalf of the refugees and their host community.

"The refugees' supplies from UNHCR and WFP [World Food Programme] have been moved on this ferry. They have also been able to move livestock and food for sale to Senanga and Mongu [western Zambia]," said ferry manager Mubita Kaiko. "This is now an international route benefiting not only refugees at Nangweshi camp, but also people from Livingstone town, and as far as Namibia and Angola."

Sometimes, goods transported by ferry continue by road to Livingstone to the south-east, Namibia to the south and Angola to the south-west.

"Neither Zambians nor refugees pay to use the ferry," said Kaiko. "But we charge all vehicles a nominal fee for administrative and maintenance costs."

He added that the ferry has become very useful in UNHCR's Angolan voluntary repatriation exercise, helping to move return convoys across the Zambezi river.

Although Nangweshi is not very far from the Angolan border, the lack of proper roads on the Angolan side makes it impossible to repatriate refugees by road. Refugees at the camp have to be transported to Lusaka, from where they are airlifted home.

"The ferry at Kalongola has helped tremendously," said UNHCR's Anu Vasamies Hackenbruck, noting that the ferry crossing allows trucks full of homebound refugees to travel straight from Nangweshi camp to the Zambian capital instead of taking a long detour along the river.

"The alternative to using the Kalongola route would have been going to Sesheke, then Livingstone up to Lusaka, which would have been a longer route and more costly for the repatriation operation," he added.

Starting next week, the journey home will get even shorter. The rehabilitation of the airport at Mongu north of Nangweshi across the Zambezi river is nearing completion and will take over the airlift to Angola on August 24. The last two flights from Lusaka International Airport to Angola organised by UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration left on Monday.

The only land convoys from Zambia to Angola are from Meheba in Zambia's North-Western province to eastern Angola's Cazombo and Luena areas. A total of 54,100 Angolan refugees have gone home from Zambia since UNHCR started its voluntary repatriation programme in June 2003.

By Kelvin Shimo
UNHCR Zambia

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