Zambia + 1 more

Zambia: UNHCR assists isolated refugees

News and Press Release
Originally published
JOHANNESBURG, 8 February (IRIN) - The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has started providing assistance to an estimated 8,000 Angolan refugees in a remote southwest corner of Zambia near the point where the country's borders converge with those of Angola and Namibia's Caprivi Strip.
UNHCR told IRIN this week the focus of its operation in Zambia had shifted to the hamlet of Sinjembela on the western banks of the Zambezi River following the evacuation by air of some 2,300 refugees from a makeshift camp at Kalabo, further north, to a safer zone well inland.

Last week, IRIN erroneously reported that 4,000 refugees had been evacuated from Kalabo. "In the first phase, an airlift, jointly organised by UNHCR and WFP last week, brought 207 mt of food and medical supplies to the border reception centre at Kalabo and transported 2,292 refugees on the return leg to Mongu," said UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond. "From Mongu, the refugees were taken by road to an existing refugee site at Mayukwayukwa. Among this group of new arrivals, 65 percent of children under age five were found to be showing signs of malnutrition. Supplementary feeding programmes have been set up for them."

He said some 2,500 refugees are still in Kalabo in the reception centre. "But security conditions and food stocks are adequate enough to allow this group to wait until mid-March, when it will be possible to transport them to Mayukwayukwa by large barge on the Zambezi river," he said.

At "the much more isolated and remote camp" in Sinjembela, he said some 8,000 refugees remained trapped in "a very insecure area". Already, 30 mt of food and supplies have been delivered to Sinjembela along with a mobile clinic supported by UNICEF. UNHCR said the condition of the refugees had so far been shown to be generally better than that of those who had fled to Kalabo.

"There is no airstrip in the area, so we've got to transfer these refugees 120 km over a very bad road - so poor that the vehicles can only move at walking speed. The round trip takes three days and we can only average about 300 people per week using seven trucks and four tractors," Redmond said. "We are taking them to a new refugee site in Nangweshi. Additional trucks are expected to reinforce the operation. It is such a slow, laborious process that we are also going to allow the refugees the option of walking, which several of them have requested. For those who choose to go by foot to Nangweshi, we are setting up six way stations offering basic shelter and communal kitchen facilities."

Fighting is reported to be continuing on the Angolan side of the border, with unconfirmed reports of refugees moving to Shangombo and Imushu. UNHCR said Zambia is already hosting more than 200,000 refugees, with the Kalabo and Sinjembela refugees among 22,000 new arrivals over the last four months.


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