Protecting the World’s Refugees: A Shared Commitment

Chargé d'Affaires a.i. David J. Young
Chargé d’Affaires a.i. David J. Young  

June 20, 2014 – by U.S. Chargé d’Affaires David Young and German Ambassador Bernd Finke

June 20 is World Refugee Day. This day is to recall the courage, strength and determination of women, men and children who are forced to flee their homelands under threat of persecution, conflict and violence, and to honor those who work for their wellbeing and protection. Protecting the world’s vulnerable people is a shared responsibility of free nations and indeed compassionate people around the world. As we mark World Refugee Day, the governments of the United States and Germany commend the government and people of Zambia for their 50 years of generous support to refugees. Over the past decades, Zambia has alleviated the plight of hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children who have fled devastation and despair and provided them with a safe haven to rebuild their lives. The United States and Germany affirm our strong common bonds with Zambia in welcoming those who overcome tremendous challenges to find freedom and safety for themselves and their families. A few months ago, we had the opportunity to visit the refugee camps in Mayukwayukwa and Meheba, where we got a much better picture of the long-term dedication and commitment of UNHCR and the Zambian government to safeguard the rights and wellbeing of refugees.

It is worth noting that people of all religions around the world are reminded by our scriptures that compassion toward strangers is a core tenet of faith. Zambians readily embrace this principle and long have selflessly responded to humanitarian needs throughout the region. Since 1964, Zambia has assisted more than 300,000 refugees and asylum seekers including Angolans, Zimbabweans, Namibians, South Africans, Congolese, Rwandans, Somalis, Ugandans and Burundians. At various times in its history Zambia has also harbored refugees who have gone on to become prominent leaders, such as former South African President Thabo Mbeki and former Namibian President Sam Nujoma, among others. Today, Zambia hosts some 51,000 refugees and other people of concern. Perhaps there is another future African leader hidden among these thousands.

Like Zambia, America is proud of its history of welcoming refugees. The U.S. refugee resettlement program reflects the United States’ values of compassion, generosity and leadership. The United States welcomes half of all resettled refugees worldwide. Since 1975, Americans have welcomed over 3 million refugees from all over the world, including southern Africa. Refugees in the United States have built new lives in towns and communities throughout the country and greatly contributed to America’s diversity and vibrancy.

Similarly, Germany has a long tradition of providing refuge for those fleeing persecution and conflict. Germany currently hosts more than 250,000 refugees and asylum seekers, and in 2013 was the recipient of the largest number of asylum applications in Europe. The crisis in Syria, in particular, has increased demand for asylum throughout Europe. Germany and Sweden have been especially involved, with the two countries receiving more than 50 percent of Syrian applications. Since 1992, the German government has funded the annual German Academic Refugee Initiative to support tertiary education for deserving refugees worldwide. The programme grants scholarships to refugees at universities, colleges and polytechnics in their host countries. Refugees and persons of concern living in Zambia are regularly among the recipients of these scholarships. In addition, both Germany and the United States work hard in many regions of the world to fight the root causes of flights and displacements: poverty, the violation of human rights and ethnic conflicts.

Zambia likewise shares common values of diversity and human dignity. In April 2014, the Zambian government and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) launched the Local Integration Strategy, which seeks to integrate up to 10,000 former Angolan refugees into Zambian society. As the first African country to agree to assimilate former refugees into its communities, Zambia deserves the recognition and appreciation of the global community. The governments of the United States and Germany both strongly support the Local Integration Strategy and anticipate that new socio-economic projects in the chiefdoms and resettlement areas will greatly improve the living conditions of Zambians and former Angolan refugees alike.

Challenges abound, however, and the socio-economic projects under the Local Integration Strategy will require an additional $21 million through 2016. Presently, UNHCR has received less than $4 million. In order for the strategy to be successfully implemented, the government of Zambia and UNHCR will need the support of the Zambian people, cooperating partners and the private sector. The Zambian government can play an important role in leading the effort to implement the Local Integration Strategy to attract wider financial support and to offer Zambians and former refugees a brighter future in their communities.

Zambia has a proud tradition of protecting vulnerable people throughout the region and now has the opportunity to become a refugee model for the continent and the world. While challenges remain, the governments of the United States and Germany stand firmly with Zambia to help it build upon its noble legacy to ensure a lasting and durable solution for all its refugees.