There was confusion at Kazungula border post on Friday morning when Livingstone police descended on over 60 Congolese Nyamulenge refugees who escaped from Mayukwayukwa camp where they were taken by government after xenophobic attacks on them in Lusaka, according to the Post newspaper.
Until last month, Zambia was regarded as safe haven for people fleeing conflicts in the region but now refugees are no longer safe thus fleeing to countries like Botswana. Last month Zambia recorded its first violent xenophobic attacks especially on East Africans.
Police tear-gassed the refugees to stop them from fleeing into neighbouring Botswana because they did not have valid travel documents.
The government recently relocated Congolese and Rwandan refugees to Mayukwayukwa while others were taken to Meheba after attacks on those running businesses following a spate of ritual murders that had rocked the capital city.
But several of them fled the two camps, saying life at the settlements was unbearable.
For the past two weeks, the refugees have been fleeing what they term hostility from Zambians with a view to entering into the nearest neighbouring country that would receive them.
But yesterday, the Congolese refugees who fled Mayukwayukwa were handcuffed and tied with ropes after authorities at the Kazungula Border refused to grant them permits to migrate to Botswana.
Earlier, some refugees narrated that Kazungula immigration officers told them their case was beyond them and that they needed to seek advice from higher authority before they could make any move.
“Yesterday (Thursday) when we arrived here at Kazungula border after walking all the way from Mayukwayukwa refugee camp to this place, the immigration officers told us that we could not be allowed to go into Botswana because we did not have permits, but we told them that ‘we are refugees, we are running away from Zambia’, they couldn’t listen to us,” one of the refugees said.
They said things turned sour for them after a team of riot police officers fired tear gas and later descended on them and their innocent children yesterday.
“Look at them, the police officers, they have fired tear gas at us instead of finding a reasonable solution for us! They have come here with force and they are telling us that they will not mind shooting or killing any one of us who will not obey their orders,” a man said.
The over 50 minutes fracas was characterised mainly by the wailing of women and children.
Another refugee said the “unbearable storm” had once again fallen on them and they were wondering whether they were a cursed people or generation.
“The storm has finally fallen on us, our children, our women, young and old have been tear-gassed and fear has gripped all of us. The police officers are treating us like animals, they have tied us with ropes and handcuffs and they have forced us into these vehicles, we don’t know where they will be taking us,” said another man.
“We have been divided, some of our friends have managed to run away, others have gone missing and we don’t know whether we will get to meet our loved ones that we have been separated from or not. Please help us get out of this storm, we are crying and looking up to God for help.”