By Mwala Kalaluka
ABOUT 5,588 ex-Angolan refugees out of 15,234 have been screened and signed for local integration based on criteria established under government's strategic framework for the integration of former refugees, according to the Ministry of Home Affairs.
And home affairs deputy minister Nickson Chilangwa says it is imperative that the media is engaged in local integration issues because some Zambians have 'opposed' the approach without fully understanding what was involved.
And United Nations High Commission for Refugees country representative Laura Lo Castro says positive media messages on the refugee situation in the country can have an incredibly contagious impact on public perceptions.
During a UNHCR-Ministry of Home Affairs media workshop at Intercontinental Hotel in Lusaka on Tuesday, 22nd April,2014, it was learnt that the strategic framework on local integration of ex-refugees in Zambia followed the pledges made by the government in 2011 in Geneva, Switzerland that it would locally integrate about 10,000 and 4,000 Angolan and Rwandese refugees respectively, falling in the same category.
The Angolans' refugee status ceased in 2012, while that for the Rwandese ceased last year.
According to the Ministry of Home Affairs, former Angolan and Rwandese refugees constitute 51-55 per cent of the 53,000 'people of concern' in Zambia and that whilst the Angolan government was in the process of issuing passports and other documents to their citizens still residing in the country, there was a challenge with the former Rwandese refugees.
It was heard that resource mobilisation and reaching out to the self-settled refugees were some of the key challenges in implementing the local integration strategy, which will, among other things, look at the time the applicant came into the country and their marital status.
And officiating at the workshop, Chilangwa said there had been many negative stories about the government's move to locally integrate some former Angolan refugees and this was the reason a consistent interaction with the media over the issue was important.
"They some people didn't understand and they were asking 'how can you give citizenship to Angolans? How many Zambians have been given citizenship in Angola?' without even understanding the details," Chilangwa said. "The issue of refugees is one that has been with us for a long time now - over 50 years. Therefore, we expect a media in Zambia that is bold, predictable, analytical, consistent and pro-active when it comes to reporting on refugees and other humanitarian issues."
He said instead of concentrating on event-based coverage, the media should give the refugee story a human interest touch.
"We anticipate to see more stories on various durable solutions on refugees, such as voluntary repatriation, local integration and resettlement. For us in Zambia, the major event now...is the local integration," said Chilangwa.
Meanwhile, Castro said positive messages were incredibly contagious and the manner the media packaged its stories on people that require protection like refugees was important even as it remained objective.
"How you package this human interest story - your use of language - can either create harmony by dispelling long-held stereotypes about refugees and displaced people or lead to discord," said Castro. "Refugees can be seen as people bringing problems into a country, burdening the society, posing possible security threats, or they can be seen as actors of development...Public attitude towards them will evidently, dramatically change depending on how the story is presented."