Zambia: Supporting the New Life of “Former Refugees”

AAR Japan has conducted relief activities in Zambia since 1984, for 33 years, when a widespread famine in Africa attracted worldwide attention. At the beginning, its support activities in medical, educational, agricultural and other fields were based in Meheba in the North-Western Province where many Angolan refugees sought shelter after fleeing the civil war in their home country. After many refugees returned home following the end of the Angolan Civil War in 2002, AAR Japan moved the base of its subsequent activities to Lusaka, the capital of Zambia and its environs. Since then, it has provided assistance to people who have tested positive for HIV/AIDS, as the issue became a serious problem at that time, and strengthened health services for mothers and children in farming villages where people have little or no access to medical services.

In March 2017, AAR Japan reopened its office in Meheba and launched activities to assist the joint efforts to build a community by the citizens of Zambia and “former refugees” from Angola who decided to settle in Zambia rather than returning to their home country.
Atsushi NAOE of AAR Japan visits households in the site (April 2017)

Building a new self-help community

Situated in southern Africa, Zambia has remained politically stable since its independence in 1964 and has accepted many refugees from neighboring countries. The number of refugees who have reached Zambia after fleeing not only Angola but also Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and other countries exceeds 250,000. At present, more than 51,000 refugees and former refugees live in Zambia. The government of Zambia has launched a program to offer undeveloped land to interested Zambians as part of its land development drive.  In 2014, the program was expanded to cover former refugees who lost their refugee status following the end of conflict in their home countries. This program, which grants land and permanent residence permits to former refugees as their “resettlement area” to encourage their local integration, has drawn attention as a new approach to solving the prolonged refugee problem.

Meheba in the North-Western Province, where AAR Japan has conducted refugee assistance between 1984 and 2004, is one of the largest refugee settlements in Zambia. The Zambian government, in collaboration with international organizations and NGOs, is promoting a project to develop forest zones for human settlement and allot the land so that former refugees can live there along with Zambians.

AAR Japan started an on-site survey of the needs of former refugees in 2015, and conducted home visits for interviews between April 12 and 21, 2017 to document the details of the living conditions of residents who began their life in the resettlement areas. A father of a nine-member family of former Angolan refugees who just built a house in the resettlement area last year told the interviewer, “We had all the familiar faces around us in the area where we used to live, so we traded maize or vegetables when we were short of food. Here, we can’t do that anymore.” A plot of land measuring five hectares or more is allocated to each household in the resettlement area, where houses are located far away from each other on a vast tract of land. Former refugees must build their own houses, so families with more than 10 members are often seen living in a single tent until their house is completed. Other families are so destitute that they have difficulty feeding their own family members until their crops grow, let alone earn cash, even after they managed to build their houses.
North-Western Province where Meheba Refugee Settlement is located
Atsushi NAOE of AAR Japan conducts an interview during a home visit (April 2017)

In this tough environment, it is vital for people in the community to build, as soon as possible, an environment where community members can help each other.  Our survey also found that many of the people who settled there had anxieties over securing water, essential for life. Although wells are being installed by the government, there is no agreement on ways to maintain and manage those wells. Since the resettlement area will be inhabited by a group of people who have come from various locations, AAR Japan plans to support the residents by organizing a self-help group among the locals to enable the election of water management members from each group who will oversee well maintenance and management. Also, hygiene education members will be elected from each group to work on the improvement of sanitary conditions. The elected hygiene education members will attend lecture meetings for hygiene awareness raising and launch activities to improve sanitary conditions for residents in their own group. AAR Japan hopes these activities will play a part in building a community where participants can help each other out, regardless of whether they are former refugees or Zambians.
People who relocated to the resettlement area live in tents as shown in the photograph until their houses are completed (August 2015)
A family that relocated to the resettlement area builds their house by clearing the forest to develop farmland while living in a temporary tent shelter (September 2016)

Yuko GOTO of AAR Japan conducts a survey on sanitary awareness at a school (May 2017)

Refugee assistance involves entry support and exit support, and activities in Meheba come under the latter. It is difficult to foresee a way out for refugee assistance with numerous refugee camps and settlements around the world housing a wide variety of refugees, including people who have lived there for decades and those who were born and grew up in camps. Given this situation, the local integration policies in Zambia may be regarded as a new attempt toward exit strategy in refugee assistance. AAR Japan will continue its activities so that the resettlement area can serve as a community for former refugees and Zambians to help each other as if they were in their homeland.
Atsushi NAOE (right in the back row) and Yuko GOTO (left in the back row) of AAR Japan photographed with members of an Angolan family who started a new life (March 2017)

Atsushi NAOE, Meheba Office, Zambia
NAOE has worked in his current post since March 2017. After working with a private company for six years, he studied at a university in the U.S. He then joined Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers and was dispatched to Zambia for two years as a science and math teacher. Following his return to Japan, NAOE joined AAR Japan in October 2011. His favorite pastime is to read novels by international authors. NAOE was born in Okayama Prefecture.
Profile as of the date of the article.
Japanese-English translation by Ms.Rie Watanabe
English editing by Ms. Laura Peters

This article has been translated by volunteers as part of the AAR Japan's Volunteer Programme. Their generous contributions allow us to spread our activities and ideas globally, through an ever-growing selection of our reports from the field.