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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move

N° 109 (Suppl.), April 2009






  1. CCD - Catholic Commission for Development
  2. JRS – Jesuit Refugee Service
  3. GDP – Gross Domestic Product
  4. UNITA – Union for Total Liberation of  Angola
  5. Frelimo – Mozambique Liberation Front
  6. NDP – National Democratic Party
  7. ZAPU – Zimbabwe African People’s Union
  8. ZANU-PF – Zimbabwe African National Union   Patriotic Front
  9. SWAPO – South West African People’s Organisation

1. Introduction

The paper seeks to present the current picture of Zambia’s involvement in hosting refugees. It will give few general facts about Zambia, outline the history of Zambia’s involvement in refugee issues, show the current populations of refugees, attempted programmes by the church and challenges encountered in the refugees service.

The paper will end with some concluding remarks.

1.1. General facts about Zambia

Zambia, a former colony of Britain, then called Northern Rhodesia, is a land locked country in the southern part of the region known as Central Africa. It is a sparsely populated country with a population of 11.9 million [1]on an area of 752,614 sq km. 51% of the population is constituted by female gender. The country has a beautiful tropical climate supporting a wide range of natural resources. It hosts one of the greatest wonders of the world, the Victoria falls (or Musi-o-tunya as it is popularly known by the local people).

The country went through a period of liberation struggle and gained its independence from the colonial master on 24th October 1964 with Lusaka as its capital City. It has 9 provinces and four major local languages in addition to the official language, English. Embracing democracy, Zambia has plural politics.

The country’s economy is still heavily dependent on mining copper and other minerals. Agriculture is the second largest sector, which the economy of Zambia depends on. Tourism is a rapidly growing industry. Improvement of the economy is usually talked about in terms of reduced inflation raised GDP, demonstrated investor confidence and the opening of mines in other regions other than the traditional Copperbelt province.

However the impact of these economic sectors is still below expectation as the majority (67%)[2] of the nation’s population live in poverty.

The life expectancy, now at 38.8[3] is ever reducing while the mortality rate and disease burden is ever increasing. Access to social services is still a common worry of most Zambians as they witness for instance hospitals without drugs or reliable staffing and the growing tendency among those in power to fly each other to South Africa for treatment. It is a country among those African countries with a high under nourishment rate[4]. Though statistics show that the HIV/AIDS prevalence rate has reduced from 16% to14%, the pandemic is still a big source of concern in the nation. 

2. Zambia and refugees

The hosting of refugees in Zambia can be traced as far back as the 1940s when as a result of the 2nd World War thousands of poles became refugees. Under an agreement between the exiled polish government and Britain these polish refugees were transported to Russia, Persia and British colonies in Africa which included Kenya, South Africa and Zambia, then Northern Rhodesia. The local people in Zambia accommodated the polish by building them African-style huts in Lusaka, Bwana Mkubwa, Abercorn, Fort Jameson, Livingstone and Mufurila. The refugees only went back after the 2nd World War.

As a country that was spared from internal/ethnic fights, Zambia continued serving as a haven of peace for others to move to and take refuge. Apart from hosting the Polish, which can be taken as the first phase of migrant experience, Zambia received refugees from neighbouring countries who fled from the 1960s wars that arose between the colonial masters and the local people’s freedom fighters as well as civil wars which erupted following the power sharing disagreements. This is a second phase.

The refugees hosted included; Angolans from the UNITA vs Portuguese war Mozambiquans following the FRELIMO vs Portuguese war; Namibians from Colonial master of Namibia vs SWAPO war and the Zimbabweans fleeing the Ian Smith (British) government vs what started as National Democratic Party in 1961, evolved into Zimbabwe African People’s Union in 1962 and later into what is today Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front. For Zimbabwe, Zambia was caught up in the imperialist’s bullets and bombs aimed at freedom fighters without giving up the rich sense of hospitality and solidarity. In the second phase Zambia hosted refugees countries beyond its neighbourhood such as South Africa, including one of the great sons and leaders of Africa, Nelson Mandela, Somalia and the West African region.

The third and most recent phase of Zambia’s involvement in refugees hosting runs from the 1990s characterised by wars in the Great lakes region which led influx of refugees from Rwanda, Burundi, Congo DR (Zaire) and very small numbers Uganda. These were mainly civil wars arising from various causes. If there is anything that Zambians should be proud of is their long history of welcoming the strangers as the Good News of Jesus teach us and the unflinching commitment to living in solidarity with others.

2.1. Current situation

Though the threats of more influxes of refugees are real considering the political and economic development in Zimbabwe and the xenophobic attacks, which have arisen in South Africa, the number of refugees has gone down following the repatriation carried out. Two of the refugee camps namely Ukwimi in Eastern province which was largely populated by Mozambiquans and Nangweshi in Western province have been deactivated.

Below is the table showing the present refugees population levels as copied from the UNHCR record of 2007 and comparing them to the 2006 figures shown in brackets in the table. The figures are disaggregated according to country of origin, camp location, urban and self-resettled.

Location Angola Burundi Congo Rwanda Somalia Uganda others G.Total
Meheba 8,474 (8,953) 195




1,846 (1,777) 23








Mayukwayukwa 10,230 (4,916) 74












Kala     16,877




Mwange     17,911




Nangweshi 0






Total Camps 18,704 (29,180) 269 




1,938 (1,859) 23








Total Urban 53


748     (725) 2,136


1,207 (1,189) 1,002







( 5,486)

Self Settled 22,000 (49,000) 400        (400) 15,000








8,500 (8500) 48,000


G.Totals 40,757 (78,267) 1,417 (1,403) 55,434


4,045 (3,948) 1,725 (1,693) 778


8775 (8792) 112,931


 See also UNHCR Zambia Report, 2006 and UNHCR Zambia Report, 2007


The other phenomena regarding migrants in Zambia is the emerging of the

See also UNHCR Zambia Report, 2006 and UNHCR Zambia Report, 2007 

The other phenomena regarding migrants in Zambia is the emerging of the economic migration leading to brain drain, human trafficking and unsettled population arising from rural – city/urban migration.

2.2. Repatriation

The reduced population of refugees in the tables above especially for Angola and Congo DR, show that there is an on going repatriation.

Voluntary repatriation has taken place following the successful presidential elections in Congo DR and the return of peace in many parts of the country.

Since May 2007 9000 Congolese refugees were successfully repatriated. In the same vein Ugandan refugees have also repatriating following the death of Milton Obote.

The Zambian Government in partnership with UNHCR has started a project known as Zambia initiative which is aimed at developing the capacity of the local communities in locations hosting the refugees to accommodate integration and support of refugees children born among the local communities. It seeks to alleviate the effects of food deficit, poor infrastructure, limited access to social services and economic opportunities. 

3. Zambia Episcopal Conference’s response to refugee issues

True to its commitment to reading the signs of the time and the biblical teachings on welcoming the strangers, the Catholic Church in Zambia took up the challenge of addressing the refugee needs through Catholic Commission for Development (CCD) also known as Caritas Zambia.

In 1994 the Zambia Episcopal Conference delegated Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) through the CCD to carry out the Church’s response to the issues of refugees in the country. The camps JRS took were Meheba Refugee Settlement in the North western Province, Mayukwayukwa and Nangweshi in Western province and UKWIMI in Eastern province.

In addition to work in refugee camps, JRS started an Urban Refugee Project in 1997 in Lusaka. JRS has always striven, through the Urban Refugee Project, to overcome xenophobia which occasionally arises among Zambians by providing programmes which allow refugees and citizens to experience positive interaction and treating each other according to the teachings of the gospel values.

Interventions include;

Pastoral Care: the Catholic Church in Zambia made itself present even for the strangers (refugees and migrants) by assigning either a clergy, religious or seminarian to accompany them in their prayer, sacraments and faith development needs as well as the upholding of Gospel values. Furthermore, the church offered or facilitated the offering of counselling services.

Community building and social integration: The church conducted awareness education sessions which sought to develop a spirit of accepting each other between the refugees and the hosting community. As part of social integration the language lessons and survival skills development training are provided to enable refugees integrate in the normal life of the region hosting them. They are also guided in how to approach the processing of their legal status. Social events are organised to facilitate interaction and sharing of ideas and experiences. Communication is facilitated for Migrants and refugees who need to such service.

Advocacy: The church monitors and listens to issues relating the way the refugees and migrants are served by the officers in the hosting country. Depending on the issues picked, advocacy sessions with the relevant authorities were held.

Emergency needs of refugees: where the church can, it responds or facilitate response to the emergency needs of the migrants and refugees. These may include communication, food, clothing or blankets before resettling. 

4. Challenges

α.   Funding for outreach refugees and migrants is not easy to mobilise

β.   High poverty levels in hosting countries makes it difficult for the integration of the population arising from children of the refugees in the local community

χ.   How to prepare for possible fresh influx of refugees from recent Developments in Zimbabwe and South Africa 

5. Conclusion

Zambia has a long history of hosting refugees and there is no guarantee that this role will come to an end soon. This means that the role of the church to exercise its Caritas to the migrants and refugees through pastoral care interventions continues to be relevant. Migration needs to be taken as a development issue so that the church can consider creation of partnerships/linkages which will focus on root causes of the wars which force people to flee their countries. A meeting like this one should serve as a platform for partnership which will enable the church contribute to lasting solutions to problems of refugees and migrants for they are largely not natural but created by human beings.  


Mr Fanwell Hibajene

Nacional Programme Coordinator

Caritas Zambia


[1] UN, 2007 quoted in Country Profile :Zambia.

[2] Africa Economic Outlook.

[3] Africa Economic Outlook.

[4] Africa Economic Outlook.