Walter Nyamukondiwa Chinhoyi Bureau
FOREIGN nationals, among them Zimbabweans, were forced to seek refuge at police stations in parts of the Zambian capital, Lusaka, following what has been seen as an outbreak of xenophobic attacks.
The attacks were sparked by reports that foreigners had been arrested in connection with alleged ritual killings.
This sparked riots which saw locals going on a looting spree of mostly foreign-owned shops and attacking foreigners especially Rwandan nationals.
Zimbabwean nationals resident in Lusaka sent distress calls to relatives back home saying they had sought refuge at various police posts in western parts of Lusaka.
The most affected areas include George, Lilanda, Chunga and Zingalume in the west while in the north, parts of Matero, Chaisa, Kabanana, Mandevu and Chipata compound were affected.
“Vehama Zambia yaoma, maforeigners takahwanda izvozvi. Yakaitika ku South Africa yaveko kuno vari kurova pamwe nokuuraya (The situation in Zambia is now bad. The same scenario that took place in South Africa is now happening here),” said someone from Kabanana.
Some people were contemplating returning home owing to the threats of violence.
The foreigners reported random assaults.
The Zambian Home Affairs Minister Davis Mwila issued a statement yesterday giving assurances that police would handle the situation.
“Today has been a very sad day for our country. It’s a day on which some criminal elements in Lusaka with criminal intent took advantage of the pain and grief we have all felt over the suspected ritual killings that have rocked the city of Lusaka since March 16, 2016,” he said.
Mwila said the situation had been hijacked by criminal elements who took advantage and looted foreign-owned businesses.
The riots are said to have been sparked by false reports of the release of a suspected ritual murderer.
However, the minister said the man had been arrested for conduct likely to disturb peace contrary to reports that he was facing allegations of murder.
At least 62 shops had been looted by yesterday while 256 suspects were arrested for looting.
Looters targeted foodstuffs such as mealie-meal, sugar, bread, cooking oil and other essential commodities.
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) Country Representative Laura Lo Castro, expressed concern at the attack on foreigners and refugees.
“We would like to urge Zambians to continue maintaining the unblemished high reputation respected by the international community, of being hospitable to foreigners, including refugees,” she said in a statement.
She commended Zambia’s response in a bid to contain the violence and encouraged continued efforts in restoring stability in the affected areas.
She, however, noted that many refugees had been calling on the UNHCR to express their fears and share information about loss of property.
“It’s very concerning and sad to hear these news of violence against brothers and sisters of nearby countries. While we appreciate the efforts made so far, UNHCR is calling on the government to continue to do all it can to prevent any future incidents,’’ Castro said.
Efforts to get a comment from the Zimbabwean embassy in Zambia to establish the extent to which Zimbabwean nationals were affected were fruitless last night.