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Zambia Seeks to Alleviate Poverty Among Refugees

A project called the Zambian Initiative Development is alleviating poverty among refugees and communities near refugee camps. It has helped over 600 thousand people, some of them asylum seekers. VOA English to Africa’s Danstan Kaunda reports from Lusaka that Zambia is home to more than 120 thousand refugees from Angola, Rwanda, Somalia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Most of these refugees fled their countries because of conflict.

The Zambia Initiative is funded by Denmark, Japan, Sweden and the United States. It’s designed to help not only refugees, but also the communities near the refugee camps.

The community benefits through rural infrastructure development, such as rehabilitation and construction of schools, health care centers and the training of farm extension officers.

The refugees themselves are trained in skills like carpentry, clothing design, crafts, food processing and natural resource management.

The Zambia Initiative has also helped remote health centers acquire ambulances and motorcycles.

Immanuel Mulenga is an official with the Zambia Red Cross Society, one of a number of NGOs offering training to about 40,000 refugees. He says, “The essence of educating these people [refugees] with skills is to make them useful so that when time comes for repatriation, they can be useful back home [country of origin] and could contribute to the reconstruction of their countries. We do not want to keep them here illiterate [and uneducated].”

Kelvin Shimo is an official with the UNHCR. He says it has started providing start-up funds to some refugees who have applied for resident status in Zambia, “Refugees here are involved in various income generating ventures. They are also in terms of micro-financing, which they [refugees] use in their small businesses. These income ventures [include] the selling of merchandise… Some have gone into agricultural produce, selling of tomatoes, onions, while others [refugees] are making art and crafts which they sell.”

In observance of this years’ World Refugee Day, some refugees took part in a weeklong arts and crafts exhibit in Lusaka where they sold their goods, including traditional hand-made crafts, pictures and clothing for both men and women.

Other crafts ranged from small hand-made baskets to garden seats made of woven fabric costing about $54 US.

Forty-seven-year-old Zampwena Babela of Congo was there. He is one of the few asylum seekers with a temporary work visa in Zambia. He says, “Some of the things [exhibited] here, I just buy from other people [refugees in the camps] because they lack money. And other things I buy from international traders who come from South Africa and other countries. And then, I re-sell them out at a profit.”

There are over 120,000 refugees in Zambia; about 75,000 are in camps, and the rest have been resettled within the country. More than 70,000 have also been resettled in their home countries.