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Zambia: attention focuses on Sinjembela

Briefing notes

Zambia: attention focuses on Sinjembela

4 February 2000

UNHCR's efforts in Zambia to move refugees from relatively insecure areas along the Angolan border have entered a second and much more difficult phase with the completion of an air evacuation of nearly 2,300 refugees from one makeshift camp, Kalabo. We are now turning our attention to the much more isolated and remote camp at Sinjembela, where some 8,000 refugees are still trapped along the border in a very insecure area. Fifteeen MT of food and supplies are in place there, along with a mobile clinic supported by UNICEF, but security remains the major concern.

There is no airstrip in the area, so we've got to transfer these refugees 120 km over a very bad road - so poor that the vehicles can only move at walking speed. The round trip takes three days and we can only average about 300 people per week using seven trucks and four tractors. We are taking them to a new refugee site in Nangweshi. Additional trucks are expected to reinforce the operation. It is such a slow, laborious process that we are also going to allow the refugees the option of walking, which several of them have requested. For those who choose to go by foot to Nangweshi, we are setting up six way stations offering basic shelter and communal kitchen facilities.

Site development at Nangweshi camp has started with refugees involved in the site cleaning.

In the first phase, an airlift, jointly organised by UNHCR and WFP last week, brought 207 MT of food and medical supplies to the border reception centre at Kalabo and transported 2,292 refugees on the return leg to Mongu. From Mongu, the refugees were taken by road to an existing refugee site at Mayukwayukwa. Among this group of new arrivals, 65 percent of children under age five were found to be showing signs of malnutrition. Supplementary feeding programmes have been set up for them.

Some 2,500 refugees are still in Kalabo in the reception centre, but security conditions and food stocks are adequate enough to allow this group to wait until mid-March, when it will be possible to transport them to Mayukwayukwa by large barge on the Zambezi river.

Fighting is reported to be continuing on the Angolan side of the border, with unconfirmed reports of refugees moving to Shangombo and Imushu.

Zambia is already hosting more than 200,000 refugees, with 22,000 new arrivals over the last four months.