By Manoah Esipisu
LUSAKA, Jan 26 (Reuters) - The U.N. refugee agency on Wednesday lambasted the 14 members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) for rejecting refugees from outside the region.
"There is a tendency within SADC of not accepting refugees from outside the region. That is unacceptable," United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) southern Africa Director Nicolas Bwakira told a news conference.
Bwakira was in Lusaka, accompanying UNHCR head Sadako Ogata on a mission to evacuate thousands of sick and hungry Angolan refugees from the western Zambia border post of Kalabo, where they faced floods, to a settlement farther inland.
He gave no specific examples, but said UNHCR was working with SADC on a plan to deal with the problem.
The SADC covers Angola, Botswana, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Lesotho, Tanzania, South Africa, Seychelles, Swaziland, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Most SADC countries bar refugees from West Africa and the Horn of Africa.
Bwakira also spoke strongly against other unidentified African countries that enforced laws keeping refugees inside designated camps where they could not earn a living.
He said Zambia was an exception to those tendencies. It hosts 216,783 refugees, of whom at least 171,760 are Angolans who fled fighting between government troops and UNITA rebels.
The UNHCR says 21,000 refugees have entered Zambia from Angola since October with 12,000 crossing in January alone.
OGATA URGES END TO REFUGEE MISERY
Zambia is also home to refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Burundi. It is one of the few countries in Africa with permanent refugee settlements, where refugees have tracts of land to till.
Refugees from conflicts in Mozambique, South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe made Lusaka their home for decades.
Countries such as Kenya and Tanzania also have thousands of refugees. But they prefer to keep them in camps and treat movement out of those areas as a criminal offence.
Ogata on Tuesday night urged Africans to quickly resolve the causes of conflict, violence and war to end the misery of refugees.
"They have to take interest in the peace process," Ogata told reporters after meeting diplomats in Lusaka.
"It is a sad thing that we (UNHCR) are in heavy demand 50 years after the organisation was formed to solve refugee problems," Ogata said, adding that life was appalling for refugees anywhere.
The latest fighting in Angola flared up in late 1999 when government troops launched a multi-pronged assault on the UNITA strongholds of Bailundo and Andulo in the central highlands.
The conflict, Africa's longest-running war, has killed more than a million people, or 10 percent of Angola's population of 12 million, displaced a further 50 percent and driven 500,000 across the borders into neighbouring countries.
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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