Zambia fears humanitarian crisis as influx of Congo refugees escalates

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Zambia fears a looming humanitarian crisis after more than 6 000 refugees fleeing turmoil in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) entered its territory in one month, the presidency said on Friday.

Thousands of people have been killed and more than one million forced to flee their homes in the DRC’s eastern Kasai region since the start of an insurrection nearly a year ago by the Kamuina Nsapu militia, which is demanding the withdrawal of military forces from the area.

Zambia currently hosts some 59 195 refugees and other asylum seekers, mostly from Angola, the DRC, Rwanda, Burundi, Somalia and Uganda, the United Nations refugee agency says.

Zambian President Edgar Lungu raised the matter with South African President Jacob Zumba and will also discuss it with Angola’s new president, Lungu’s spokesman Amos Chanda told Reuters.

“Zambia is concerned that the refugee situation could escalate and lead to a serious humanitarian crisis,” Chanda said.

“In the last week 500 people have been entering every day, mainly in Luapula province. We have had in excess of 6 000 in just one month,” he added, referring to the refugees.

They have been fleeing into northern Zambia to escape clashes between Congolese and different militias around the towns of Pweto and Moba, the UN refugee agency said.

The government and the UN refugee agency have managed so far to provide basic essentials and to settle the refugees in protected areas, Chanda said.

The insurgency poses the most serious threat yet to the rule of Congo’s President Joseph Kabila, whose refusal to step down at the end of his constitutional mandate last December was followed by a wave of killings and lawlessness across the vast central African nation.

Zuma, Lungu and outgoing Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos are worried about the deteriorating political situation in the DRC, Chanda said.

“(The three leaders) desire to ensure that a retired African president be appointed to lead a process that must lead to a free and all-inclusive election in the DRC to help heal the tensions that are heightening conflicts leading to the refugee crisis,” he said.