Ethiopian Migrants Detained in Zambia Released

Posted: 
01/17/17
Themes: 
Migrant Assistance

Zambia - A group of 150 Ethiopian migrants who received presidential pardons in December 2016 after being detained in Zambia for between one and five years are to be repatriated to Ethiopia under an IOM Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration program.

The migrants, aged between 15 and 38, were serving various immigration-related sentences in prisons across Zambia. The country’s strict immigration laws mean that undocumented migrants can be prosecuted for consenting to be smuggled and given minimum prison sentences of 15 years.

The operation, which will begin the week of January 26th, will be funded by a pool of donors including the US State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, IOM’s Global Assistance Fund and IOM’s non-profit US Association for International Migration (USAIM).

“The pardoning of the migrants demonstrates the Zambian government’s commitment to address the plight of migrants and explore alternatives to detention for immigration offences, which will contribute to the decongestion of prisons,” said IOM Zambia Chief of Mission Abibatou Wane.

IOM Director General William Lacy Swing discussed the plight of detained migrants when he visited Zambia and met with senior government officials in May 2016.

Shortly after his visit, following concerted advocacy from the Ethiopian Embassy, IOM, UNICEF, UNHCR, Human Rights Commission and others, a group of 40 migrants sentenced to 15 years imprisonment in 2015 in Zambia’s Central Province for consenting to being smuggled received a presidential pardon. The migrants, mostly children, subsequently were provided with assisted voluntary return to Ethiopia by IOM.

Most migrants detained in Zambia come from the Horn of Africa and transit through the country en route to South Africa, where they hope to find employment and a better future for themselves and their families.

They pay USD 4,000-5,000 for the dangerous journey, which can take several weeks and often involves hiding in container trucks and walking for long stretches with little food or water. 

“I left home like most of the other boys in search of a better life. I had a valid passport, with no visa, but it was taken away from me by the smugglers. When I arrived in Zambia I was arrested and put in prison. Prison for me has been horrific,” said Assan*, one of the pardoned inmates. “I can’t explain how happy I am to be going back home to see my family and work on our farm again.”

On arrival in Ethiopia, the migrants will be taken to IOM’s Addis Ababa Transit Centre, where they will receive health screening before travelling to their final destinations. Migrants requiring medical attention will be referred to hospitals. In addition, Ethiopia’s Bureau of Women and Children Affairs (BoWCA) and UNICEF will help with family tracing and reunification of unaccompanied minors. 

For further information, please contact Bertha Kalyocha Nguvulu at IOM Zambia, Tel: +260 975 766 486, Email: bnguvulu@iom.int

*Name changed to protect his identity.