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Zambia Refugees Economies: Livelihoods and Challenges

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Refugees and former refugees have enormous potential to contribute to Zambia’s economy

UNHCR Releases report on the economic impact of refugees hosted in Zambia

LUSAKA, Zambia – A recent study on refugee economies shows that refugees and former refugees are contributing positively to Zambia’s economy in various ways and have the potential to contribute even further if legal and other obstacles are removed. The study was conducted by the Institute of Economic and Social Research (INESOR) of the University of Zambia in technical partnership with the Refugee Studies Centre of the University of Oxford during October 2016 – January 2017.

The study targeted mainly Congolese, Burundian, Somali, and Rwandan refugees as well as former refugees from Rwanda and Angola in urban areas and the two rural refugee settlements, Mayukwayukwa (Kaoma District/Western Province) and Meheba (Kaulumbila District/North-Western Province).

The economic activities of refugees and former refugees range from farming, running small businesses such as trading shops, artisans, animal husbandry to providing services through formal and informal employment. The refugees and former refugees are also employing Zambians – especially in urban areas.

The findings indicate that refugees and former refugees have the capacity to transfer skills to locals as evidenced by the new farming and consumption patterns of growing cassava and rice in the settlement areas as well as handcrafting clay roofing tiles that is commonly practiced by the Rwandans and Burundians in Zambia. Furthermore, skills on how to run small business used by Rwandans and Burundians in the Zambian urban markets is something that Zambians could learn from.

The study also highlights a number of challenges that hinders refugees and former refugees to flourish economically and fully contribute to Zambia’s economy. These include Zambia’s reservations to 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (right to work and freedom of movement) and some regulations of the 1970 Refugee Act (encampment of refugees). Refugees are also treated like other foreigners – who can only be granted work permits if no qualified Zambian is able to fill a vacancy. The fees of investment and business permits as well as work permits, also available for refugees, are often just too high. The study recommends removing several reservations that Zambia has made to the 1951 Convention to facilitate the full integration of refugees and to promote the full potential of refugees to contribute positively to Zambia’s economy.

The study provides useful information to the government, UNHCR and other stakeholders in understanding the refugee economies in Zambia. The study is timely as it comes when the Government of Zambia is drafting a new Refugee Bill. UNHCR’s Representative describes the study findings as landmark. “The findings will help UNHCR with information as we make livelihoods interventions. Furthermore, it is our hope that the Government of Zambia would consider the findings of this study to guide the future policies on refugees – especially with regard to the various reservations to the 1951 Convention,” she says.

Zambia has a long history of welcoming refugees since 1966 and it is currently hosting 57,200 refugees and former refugees residing in settlements and in urban areas.