High Commissioner Guterres pledges to help refugees in Zambia
LUSAKA, Zambia, August 20 (UNHCR) - UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres met refugees from several African countries during a four-day visit to Zambia and assured them that his agency would continue to seek durable solutions for them.
Guterres held open and candid 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.
One refugee expressed concern about the slow pace of repatriation to the Democratic Republic of the Congo despite a widespread desire among Congolese refugees to go back home.
Guterres assured him that UNHCR took such concerns seriously. "The enormous interest expressed by you to repatriate reaffirms our determination to assist you with the voluntary repatriation, which we hope to resume and intensify as soon as conditions allow," he said during his visit to Kala.
The High Commissioner 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.
Guterres also said that while voluntary repatriation is the preferred durable solution for most refugees, he was aware of the need to pursue other durable solutions for persons in need, including the possibility of local integration.
"In Zambia, a good number of Angolan refugees are married to Zambians or were born here and opt to remain in the country," he noted, adding: "We are discussing with the government to consider local integration for these refugees. At the same time the option of repatriation and resettlement is open to a few deserving cases."
In Lusaka, Guterres also attended the 27th summit of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and held meetings with senior government officials, diplomats and representatives of UNHCR and sister agencies.
During a meeting with Zambia's President Levy Mwanawasa, Guterres acknowledged Zambia's active role in trying to bring peace to the Great Lakes region. He also expressed confidence that, as chair of the SADC, Zambia would further contribute to political stability in the region and towards finding durable solutions for refugees.
He again stressed the need for the government to favourably consider local integration for some of the refugees - especially Angolans who have lived in Zambia for a long time - and pledged to support Zambia in this endeavour by helping in the development of host communities.
Guterres is on a tour of the South African region. He is currently in Mozambique from where he will proceed to South Africa later this week.
By Kelvin Shimo in Lusaka, Zambia