UNHCR protests to Zambia about deportation of 36 Congolese refugees

The UN refugee agency protests to the Zambian government over the recent expulsions of 36 refugees to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Congolese refugees being interviewed at a camp in Zambia.  © UNHCR/N.Jayasinghe

GENEVA, April 13 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency on Tuesday protested to the Zambian government over the recent expulsions of 36 refugees to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. UNHCR spokesperson, Melissa Fleming, told journalists in Geneva that the agency had "expressed alarm at the developments" in a note verbale sent to the Zambian authorities.

All of the Congolese refugees had been living in the Meheba settlement in the country's north-west. The refugees, who were returned at the Kasumbalesa border point, were given no explanation for their deportation or the possibility of challenging the decision under Zambian law.

The first six people returned were sent back in February and included a pregnant woman. The latest group, comprising 30 people, was sent back over the weekend of April 3-4 - leaving spouses and children at Meheba.

The deportations follow a security and police operation in Meheba in late February, which brought an end to a protracted demonstration by refugees. During the operation, a refugee woman was shot and killed, several others were injured and some 150 people were arrested.

"UNHCR fully shares the government of the Republic of Zambia's interest in ensuring security and order in the refugee camps and settlements. Refugees and asylum-seekers, moreover, are bound to conform to the laws and regulations of the Republic of Zambia," Fleming said. "The consequence of their failure to do so, however, should be prosecution under national laws and not forcible expulsion to their country of origin," she added.

Zambia has for more than 30 years provided asylum to tens of thousands of refugees who have found sanctuary on its territory after fleeing war and civil strife. The 15,000 people at the Meheba settlement come from Angola, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Rwanda, Somalia and Uganda. In total, Zambia hosts some 57,000 refugees.

Fleming said UNHCR urged the Zambian government to cease the expulsion of refugees and asylum-seekers to the DRC and to uphold its refugee protection responsibilities under international law.