22 December 2022
On December 11, 27 people were found dead in an agricultural area north of Zambia's capital, Lusaka. The dead, dumped one on top of the other in the street, are presumed to be Ethiopian migrants. According to a police spokesman who spoke to the BBC, the migrants are believed to have “suffocated to death while in transit.” Previously in October, the bodies of 30 presumed Ethiopian migrants were found in a mass grave in neighbouring Malawi.
Although Zambia has historically been the destination for hundreds of thousands of refugees, the country has become an important transit for migrants travelling from the Horn of Africa to South Africa in search of refuge and work. Part of a wider “Southern Route” which includes countries such as Malawi and Mozambique, significant numbers of migrants pass through Zambia, who are often at grave risk of abuse. According to the IOM, “Africa is the second-deadliest region for people on the move, with more than 9,000 deaths during migration documented on the continent since 2014,” says the IOM. “Regional household surveys indicate that these figures are almost certainly a vast undercount.”
On top of this, migrants in Zambia frequently face arrest and arbitrary detention. The country’s Immigration and Deportation Act (2010) provides the legal framework for the arrest and deportation of undocumented and overstaying migrants, for illegal entry, and for unauthorised presence in urban areas. Enforcement is rigorous, at least on paper. Officers are allowed to search workplaces or educational institutions without a warrant if a so-called illegal immigrant is suspected to be there.
In the past, authorities have conducted coordinated operations to reduce the number of undocumented and overstaying immigrants in the country. In 2016, police officers in Lusaka conducted patrols to find “illegal immigrants,” leading to the arrest of 5,747 people. During this operation, authorities primarily focused on the informal settlements around Lusaka where many undocumented migrants reside. Since then, the Department of Immigration has continued to report mass arrests and detention of undocumented migrants.
Child migrants have also been amongst those detained in Zambia. Although Zambian authorities have introduced a National Referral Mechanism (NRM) and associated Guidelines, which provide for the protection of vulnerable non-nationals including unaccompanied children, it appears that children continue to face detention in the country. In June 2022 the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child recalled joint general comments No. 3 and No. 4 of the Committee on Migrant Workers and Committee on the Rights of the Child (2017) and urged the country to end the use of detention for asylum-seeking, refugee, and migrant children and families with children.
Detained migrants are also frequently deported or removed, even to countries such as Ethiopia where some returned refugees and migrants face serious rights abuses. Indeed, between 8 and 12 September this year alone, 107 people were deported to Ethiopia. As Human Rights Watch has reported, Tigrayans returned to Ethiopia have been arbitrarily detained, mistreated, and disappeared following forced returns from countries such as Saudi Arabia.
In December 2022, the GDP and partner Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) submitted a freedom of information request to Zambia’s Department of Immigration seeking up-to-date and disaggregated statistics detailing the detention and deportation of non-citizens, as well as a list of facilities currently in use for immigration-related detention. As of 22 December, the GDP and LHR had not received a response.
- IOM, “IOM Alarmed by Deaths of 27 Ethiopian Migrants in Zambia,” 12 December 2022, https://www.iom.int/news/iom-alarmed-deaths-27-ethiopian-migrants-zambia?utm_source=miragenews&utm_medium=miragenews&utm_campaign=news
- DW, “Zambia: Dozens of Suspected Ethiopian Migrants Found Dead,” 12 December 2022, https://www.dw.com/en/zambia-dozens-of-suspected-ethiopian-migrants-found-dead/a-64063723
- Government of Zambia, “The Immigration and Deportation Act, 2010,” 2010, http://ilo.org/dyn/natlex/docs/ELECTRONIC/86259/97228/F1200888520/ZMB86259.pdf
- J. Chinyemba, “Undocumented Immigration in Zambia: A Case Study of Lusaka City,” September 2021, https://uir.unisa.ac.za/bitstream/handle/10500/23379/dissertation_chinyem-ba_j.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y
- IOM, “Guidelines: Protection Assistance for Vulnerable Migrants in Zambia,” https://www.iom.int/sites/g/files/tmzbdl486/files/migrated_files/Country/docs/Guidelines_Protection-Assistance-for-Vulnerable-Migrants.pdf
- UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, “Concluding Observations on the Combined Fifth to Seventh Periodic Reports of Zambia, CRC/C/ZMB/CO/5-7,” 27 June 2022, https://uhri.ohchr.org/Document/File/0bec897d-949c-4c47-aaef-ece1983c5eb1/8AC5E333-0D10-436C-84DB-31E3E3D54356
- Addis Standard, “Africa: News - Zambia Deports 44 Ethiopian Irregular Immigrants - One Immigrant Dies At Airport,” AllAfrica, 15 September 2022, https://allafrica.com/stories/202209160116.html
- Human Rights Watch, “Ethiopia: Returned Tigrayans Detained, Abused,” 5 January 2022, https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/01/05/ethiopia-returned-tigrayans-detained-abused
- M. Cook et al, “UNHCR Country Strategy Evaluation: Zambia,” December 2021, https://www.unhcr.org/625428bb4.pdf
24 April 2020
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.
- Face Africa, “Zambia says it will not close borders despite rise in coronavirus cases,” 26 March 2020, https://face2faceafrica.com/article/zambia-says-it-will-not-close-borders-despite-rise-in-coronavirus-cases12
- Lusaka Times, "Two New Covid-19 Cases Recorded in Chingola," 23 April 2020, https://www.lusakatimes.com/2020/04/23/two-new-covid-19-cases-recorded-in-chingola/
- Xinhuanet.com, "Zambia-Congo Border Market Still 'Alive' Amid Covid-19," News Ghana, 24 April 2020, https://newsghana.com.gh/zambia-congo-border-market-still-alive-amid-covid-19/
- Covid-19 Trends: Zambia, 22 April 2020, https://aatishb.com/covidtrends/?location=Zambia
- Daily Nation, “Covid-19: Zambia to Release Detained Nationals,” 12 April 2020, https://mobile.nation.co.ke/news/africa/Covid-19--Zambia-to-release-detained-foreigners/3126394-5521880-rpjlk9z/index.html
- P. Phiri, “First HIV, Now Coronavirus: Keeping Zambia’s Prisoners Gets Even Harder,” Global Press Journal, 12 April 2020, https://globalpressjournal.com/africa/zambia/first-hiv-now-coronavirus-keeping-zambias-prisoners-healthy-gets-even-harder/
- 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," https://zambianews365.com/covid-19-update-kasumbalesa-market-disinfected/)
- UNHCR Zambia, https://www.unhcr.org/zambia.html