The Zambian government and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) have reiterated their commitment to empowering refugee women and girls living at THE Maheba and Mayukwayukwa refugee camps in Zambia.

UNHCR Information Officer Kelvin Shimo told ZANIS here over the weekend that the Zambian government and the UNHCR had re-affirmed their commitment to the empowerment of and the support to refugee women and girls in countries in conflict.

Shimo said 10 female refugees based in Maheba and Mayukwayukwa settlements and in urban areas had made presentations on the great need to protect women refugees at the 5th regional dialogue with refugee women which ended on Friday.

The 10 women refugees represented more than 80 women and men to discuss issues surrounding ten central themes, which included shelter, health, education, economic self reliance, sexual and gender-based violence, among others.

He said the idea of the dialogue was to identify the major protection problems faced by the refugee women and to support their solutions for improvements.

Shimo noted that part of the solution to the problem could be achieved by the refugees themselves with the help of UNHCR, the Zambian government and the donor community.

He stated that the ten women had raised some serious concerns which they faced.

Among the issues are concerns of violence and rape, he said, adding that the number of rape cases of children as young as four years were a major concern in refugee camps.

Shimo lamented that women feared to leave their children alone at home or send them to schools where protection and safety could not be guaranteed. Medical care and staff were also limited in refugee camps.

UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Elisa Feller, who is visiting Zambia, said it was the responsibility of everyone to empower the refugee women with skills which could make them more independent.

Feller said it was a pity that there were inadequate schools in the refugee camps to cater for the population. She said lack of scholarships had further made the young refugee girls drop out of school early, a situation which had forced them into early marriages.

Describing this situation as unfortunate, Feller said something should urgently be done to protect these women refugees to better their living standards because it was not their wish to be refugees.