RECENTLY, President Edgar Lungu raised concern over the high number of refugees fleeing political conflict from Congo DR into Zambia.
When he attended a high-level side meeting called by the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for the Southern African Development Community Troika to discuss the situation in the DRC, President Lungu called for international support to help contain the crisis and to care for asylum seekers.
Almost a month after making the appeal on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly last month, the number of Democratic Republic of Congo asylum seekers crossing into Nchelenge and Chienge districts in Luapula Province has reached 3,830.
This has worried Government about the delay in relocating the refugees from Canin Transit Centre in Nchelenge to Meheba camp in North-Western Province because this may lead to outbreaks of contagious diseases.
The situation has become a public health crisis. It is sad that after running away from conflict, the asylum seekers are now threatened by diseases.
It will be safer to transfer the refugees to designated centres with proper facilities.
Keeping over 3,000 people, including children confined in one place, with no proper public health facilities is a recipe for outbreak of communicable diseases.
After all, Nchelenge and Chienge districts are vulnerable to outbreaks of diseases like cholera, especially now that the rainy season is about to start.
Besides, Nchelenge is densely populated, and if there is an outbreak of any disease, it may greatly affect the community.
There is also a risk that the hospitality the asylum seekers have been enjoying may wane and gradually turn hostile.
The locals may start regarding their brothers and sisters from the neighbouring country as people who are just taking up their precious space.
That number of asylum seekers is very big by any standards, hence the need for urgent relocation of the refugees from the transit centres.
Meheba camp in North- Western Province is well positioned to handle all complications which may not be easily handled at the transit centre in Nchelenge.
However, we are worried that cooperating partners are delaying in facilitating the movement of the asylum seekers to Meheba, which will be more conducive for them.
We expected the international community to heed President Lungu’s call for help during his tour of the UN General Assembly.
We hope that the international community is not fatigued with helping asylum seekers from DR Congo where political instability is still rife.
Beyond helping the refugees to move from Chienge and Nchelenge, they may also need support as they settle at Meheba.
We also call upon the international community to help restore peace in Congo because it will permanently solve the situation affecting that country’s citizens who are seeking asylum in neighbouring countries.