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24 April 2020 – Zambia

People at the Kasumbalesa Market, Vital for Cross-Border Trade with Congo, (J. Nkomo, Zambia News, 13 April 2020,
People at the Kasumbalesa Market, Vital for Cross-Border Trade with Congo, (J. Nkomo, Zambia News, 13 April 2020, "Covid-19 Update - Kasumbalesa Market Disinfected,"

Although the number of confirmed Covid-19 infections in Zambia remains low (76 as of 22 April), the rate of infection continues to rise. A land-locked country, Zambia announced in late March that it would not close its borders because of the economic impact this would have. President Edgar Lungu said on 26 March, “Zambia is landlocked; and that means, with a crisis of this magnitude, we shall find ourselves under forced lockdown if all our neighbors close their borders. This situation would make us economically vulnerable and weaker.”

By mid-April, however, the country started implementing more stringent measures, including in its prisons, which also confine immigration detainees. On 12 April, the authorities announced that they would release all foreign nationals jailed on misdemeanor and immigration charges, and send them back to their countries of origin. The Ministry of Home Affairs said that the move would help reduce overcrowding in detention facilities – where rates of HIV and tuberculosis are known to be high – and protect prisoners who remain. However, because of restrictions on international travel many returns are not possible, so the country says it will regularise the status of migrants. According to the country’s Home Affairs Minister, “For foreign nationals who have exhausted their days and are unable to travel to their countries due to suspension of flights, (they are) to quickly visit the Immigration offices and regularise their stay in Zambia.”

The country also says that it has increased measures in border areas, including introducing tests at border crossings, although its border markets – including the Kasumbalesa Common Market near the border with Congo – are to remain open, and placing people arriving from “high-risk” countries in two-week quarantine. According to one report, the health minister said in late April that those arriving from “a COVID -19 High-risk country will be quarantined at a government designated institution but at their own cost.”

Zambia hosts a substantial refugee population, including nearly 50,000 Congolese. Concerns have been raised regarding safeguarding measures. UNHCR reports that it is organising local radio messaging in all refugee-hosting areas and engaging with personalities such as local musicians to produce Covid-19 prevention radio and social media messages. The agency has also provided the Ministry of Health with Refugee Housing Units to set-up at high-risk points such as borders.