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By Bernadette Deka Zulu PhD Researcher- Public Enterprise

DECEMBER is month in which the Refugee Week commemorates and serves as an opportunity to reflect on the status of refugees in Zambia, where efforts have been made to support and integrate refugees while addressing their challenges and needs.

This week, we take an overview glance at the status of refugees in Zambia today, and what can be done to better their welfare.

Refugee population in Zambia:

The majority of refugees reside in camps and settlements, with limited access to resources and opportunities. 

Zambia hosts a diverse population of refugees, primarily from neighbouring countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Angola, Rwanda, and Burundi.

Government policies and legal framework

Zambia has ratified international conventions and protocols relating to refugees, including the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1969 OAU Convention, which form the basis for refugee protection.

The government, through the Department of Refugees in the Ministry of Home Affairs and Internal Security, oversees refugee affairs and implements policies to protect and assist refugees.

Challenges faced by refugees in Zambia

Refugees often face challenges accessing education, healthcare, and employment opportunities due to resource constraints. Restricted access to employment opportunities outside of refugee camps limits the economic self-reliance of refugees.

  • Integration challenges: Language barriers, cultural differences, and social stigma can hinder the integration of refugees into Zambian communities.

There is need for more community-based NGOs, including faith-based groups to help curb these integration challenges 

Humanitarian assistance and support:

  • UNHCR and partnerships

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) collaborates with the government and other partners to provide humanitarian aid, including shelter, food, and healthcare, to refugees. More so, various non-governmental organisations and civil society groups work to complement government efforts by providing additional support and services to refugees.

Education and healthcare initiatives:

There is need to double the efforts to ensure access to education for refugee children through the establishment of schools and educational facilities within refugee settlements.

Another important issue is the provision of primary healthcare services through clinics and health centers, is key in addressing the health needs of refugees. Therefore this area needs more support 

Local integration and community engagement:

Community-based initiatives promoting social cohesion and interaction between refugees and host communities to foster understanding and acceptance.

Vocational training and livelihood programmes aiming to enhance the skills and self-sufficiency of refugees for economic empowerment.

Protection and legal assistance:

There is need to provide more legal assistance to refugees, including documentation and support in navigating legal processes.

More campaigns and advocacy efforts are needed for the rights and protection of vulnerable groups among refugees, such as women, children, and persons with disabilities.

Advocacy and awareness:

Beyond the refugee week, there is need for reinforcement of events, workshops, and campaigns during Refugee Week to raise awareness about the plight of refugees and advocate for their rights and needs. Another important aspect is the utilisation of media platforms to highlight refugee stories and advocate for their inclusion and support.

Long-term solutions and durable settlements

Efforts towards finding durable solutions for refugees, including voluntary repatriation, local integration, or resettlement in third countries.

Developing sustainable infrastructure and services within refugee settlements to enhance living conditions and promote self-reliance.

Collaborative efforts and global solidarity

It is hoped that Zambia’s participation in regional and international fora continues to advocate for global cooperation and support for refugees, especially through humanitarian organisations. 

Moreover, refugees should not only be viewed in lenses of their plight and need for shelter and asylum, refugees can also contribute to a host country’s overall economic development.

The following are ways in which we could cultivate economic value and partnerships with refugees in Zambia.

Labour force and economic contribution:

On the front of skilled labour, refugees bring diverse skills, experiences, and expertise, contributing to the country’s labour market in sectors such as healthcare, education, agriculture, and entrepreneurship.

In many instances, refugees often take on jobs that locals might not readily fill, addressing labour shortages and contributing to economic productivity.

Entrepreneurship and innovation:

Many refugees start businesses or engage in entrepreneurial activities, contributing to economic growth and job creation within communities. Refugee entrepreneurs often bring unique business ideas and innovative solutions, contributing to local economies.

Consumption and Market Opportunities –

Consumer Base: 

Refugees contribute to local markets as consumers, increasing demand for goods and services, thereby stimulating economic activity.

The presence of refugees can create opportunities for local businesses to cater to new markets and diversify products and services.

Agricultural contribution

In refugee settlements, refugees often engage in agriculture, contributing to food production and supporting local economies. This extends to knowledge and exchange; Sharing agricultural practices and skills can enhance productivity and innovation in farming methods.

Investment and development:

 Refugee settlements often receive investments in infrastructure development, which benefits both refugees and host communities. Development projects in and around refugee settlements generate economic activities, benefiting nearby communities.

Social enterprises and partnerships:

Initiatives involving partnerships between refugees and local communities foster social enterprises, generating income and social impact while ventures can empower both refugees and locals, leading to sustainable economic growth.

Job creation and skills transfer:

Refugee integration into the workforce creates job opportunities, enhancing overall employment rates.

Refugees also bring unique skills and knowledge that can be transferred to Zambian nationals, enriching the local workforce.

Contributions to tax revenue

Through formal employment and business activities, refugees contribute to tax revenues that support public services and infrastructure development.

Long-term economic impact

Inclusive economic integration of refugees promotes social cohesion, stability, and peace, which are essential for sustained economic development.

Also, investing in refugees’ education and skills development enhances human capital, leading to long-term economic benefits.

Global reputation and partnerships:

Demonstrating commitment to refugee support enhances Zambia’s global standing and can attract international partnerships and investments.


Emphasising the importance of global solidarity and responsibility-sharing in addressing the challenges faced by refugees worldwide.

Its opportunity to recognise the resilience of refugees and reaffirm the commitment to providing them with protection, assistance, and opportunities for a dignified life within Zambia.

In doing so and by recognising and harnessing the economic contributions of refugees in Zambia can lead to more inclusive economic growth, foster innovation, and create opportunities that benefit both refugees and host communities, contributing to the country’s overall development.



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