To mark the world Refugee Day in 2001, the Bishops decided to raise concern on the plight of refugees in Zambia. The continued fighting in Congo DRC led to thousands of people seeking refugee status in Zambia in 2001. This raised the number of refugees in Zambia to more than 250,000. This big influx of refugees made Zambia the Country with the highest refugees in Southern Africa. This new influx of refugees was in addition to the long term Angolan refugees some of whom have now been in Zambia for more than thirty years. Some families are now in their third generation in Zambia having grandchildren born to them since they arrived.
It is the official treatment of these refugees and growing xenophobia which prompted the Bishops to issue this Pastoral Letter. They illustrate the severe restrictions that the Zambian law puts on refugees making it very difficult for these refugees to rebuild their lives. Furthermore, what is supposed to be a provisional status has now become a permanent status as refugees for refugees who came many years ago Their Children and grandchildren are now technically stateless as they are classified as refugees even though they have been born in Zambia.
It is in this light that the bishops called for law reform to reclassify the long term refugees as residents so that they can rebuild their lives. They implored all Zambians to have the Christian spirit of welcoming strangers as Jesus Christ taught us,. He himself having been a "refugee" when his parents fled to Egypt from King Herod in Israel.
The Church hears the suffering cry of all who are uprooted from their own land, of families forcefully separated, of those who are unable to find a stable home anywhere. She senses the anguish of those without rights, without any security, at the mercy of every kind of exploitation, and she supports them in their unhappiness. (John Paul II, Message World Migrations and Refugee Day 2000)
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Archbishop Medardo Mazombwe – (ZEC President)
For and on behalf of all the Catholic Bishops of ZambiaZambia Episcopal Conference20th June 2001, Lusaka World Refugee Day