Zambia’s government is trying to send hundreds of refugees back to camps after two people were burned to death in anti-immigration riots in the country’s capital, Lusaka.
The violence erupted earlier this month in slum areas of the capital after foreigners, especially Rwandans, were blamed for the recent murders of at least seven people, whose body parts such as ears, hearts and penises had been removed.
Locals argued that these were ritual murders committed by foreigners to secure body parts used for good luck charms.
As a result, hundreds of Lusaka residents stoned houses and shops owned by foreign nationals, with hundreds of foreigners seeking refuge at police stations and churches as looters took food, drinks, refrigerators and other electrical appliances.
Al Jazeera’s Fahmida Miller, reporting from Lusaka, said refugees who built lives in residential neighbourhoods were not willing to return to camps even though they were facing imminent threats.
“People here say they don’t want to return to refugee camps because there is no way to make a living and conditions are poor,” she said, “As the government gives reassurances that Lusaka is safe, rumours continue to spread in the streets.”
‘We are dead already’
Amon Joel, one of the several thousand refugees living in Zambia, told Al Jazeera that he was forced to abandon his small business in Lusaka when rioting began and his shop was looted.
Joel, who arrived in Zambia from the Democratic Republic of Congo seven years ago, explained that he cannot return to the community where he lived, because it is not safe.
“We are dead already. Our brothers are dead there. They have burned the shops, they have burned the houses,” he said.
According to the police more than 60 foreign-owned shops have been looted or destroyed in Lusaka in the past week and there were calls to “rid the country of all immigrants”.
The Zambian government said that the riots were “unexpected”, and security forces were deployed throughout Lusaka.
President Edgar Lungu said: “It’s a shame that this has happened in Zambia. The country is known for its peace and it was done to refugees. I will not allow this to happen again and I will make sure that police bring every culprit to book.”
Zambian police have arrested 262 people for allegedly attacking Rwandan nationals and looting their shops.
Home Affairs Minister Davies Mwila told parliament the two dead had been identified as Zambians who died “in the confusion” as riots tore through the shantytowns.