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Congolese refugees prepare for resettlement from Zambia to Scotland

Congolese refugees prepare for resettlement from Zambia to Scotland

A group of Congolese refugees in Zambia are preparing for a dramatic change - on February 1 they will leave behind Kala Refugee Camp and the southern Africa rainy season to start new lives in Scotland.
25 January 2007
A group of Congolese refugees leave the Kala camp bound for Lusaka and two weeks of cultural orientation. They will be resettled in Scotland.

LUSAKA, Zambia, January 25 (UNHCR) - A group of Congolese refugees are in the Zambian capital preparing for a dramatic change - they will soon leave behind camp routines and the African rainy season to start new lives in Scotland.

The 40 refugees, including 29 brought to Lusaka from the UNHCR-run Kala refugee camp in northern Zambia, have been taking part in an intensive two-week cultural orientation course ahead of their departure to the United Kingdom on February 1. This group of refugees, chosen under the UK Gateway Protection Programme, will be resettled in the Scottish town of Motherwell.

"God has blessed me," said Justine Kasokota, a pastor who is one of the refugees - including children - moving to Scotland. "I feel sad leaving these people I have lived with for a long time. At the same time, I feel joy for the opportunity to start a new life in Scotland," he added of the move to Motherwell, which lies just south-east of the city of Glasgow.

"I kept awake all night praying for this community in the camp and for my future," Kasokota said of his last night in Kala.

Four UK government officials flew to Zambia in January last year to interview 128 Congolese refugees whom UNHCR had identified for possible resettlement. Pleased by the quality of the cases, the Gateway Protection Programme sent a second mission to Zambia last October to interview a further 249 Congolese refugees for resettlement - their largest mission worldwide to date.

Meanwhile, a television crew from the British Broadcasting Corporation in Scotland came to Zambia this month to film life in the Kala refugee camp and to interview the first group to be resettled in Scotland under the programme.

The BBC team, accompanied by British officials, watched the first group depart Kala for Lusaka to receive their introduction to the life and culture of Britain. Transportation of the refugees was provided by the International Organization for Migration under an agreement with UNHCR.

"The British government has become a major player in refugee resettlement; our strategy is to have a balanced migration strategy," said Kevin Finch, pre-departure and policy manager of Gateway's UK resettlement programmes.

"We recognise how much UNHCR and the government of Zambia have given to refugees. We see a need to contribute to international protection and burden-sharing. Our quota resettlement programme is one way of achieving this," he said. "The refugees we have taken so far are generally doing well."

The UK programme aims to resettle Ethiopian refugees from Kenya, Burmese refugees from Thailand and Bangladesh and Congolese refugees from Zambia.

The UNHCR office in Lusaka is responsible for some 120,000 refugees in Zambia, including about 43,000 from Angola, 61,000 from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), 4,000 from Rwanda, 1,400 from Burundi and more than 11,000 from other countries. About half live in four refugee camps and the rest have settled themselves among local communities in Zambia.

Resettlement is a means of protection - especially for vulnerable individuals. It is a durable solution for those with no prospect of repatriation or local integration and a mechanism for international sharing of the burden in caring for refugees. In Zambia, UNHCR has stepped up efforts to identify potential resettlement cases, with about 430 camp-based refugees referred last year for resettlement.

Repatriation is the main and preferred solution for refugees. The successful completion of elections in the DRC last year and the conclusion of a tripartite agreement between Zambia, DRC and UNHCR has cleared the way to help repatriate up to 40,000 Congolese refugees over the next two years.

But Vedasto Mwesiga, UNHCR's deputy representative in Zambia, said the refugee agency will continue to process eligible refugees for resettlement if other solutions are not available. The UK Gateway Protection Programme has indicated interest in sending a third selection mission to Zambia next October.

By Kelvin Shimo in Lusaka, Zambia