Rwandan refugees hide in church after violence erupts in Zambia

Rwandan refugees in Zambia have hidden in a Catholic church after days of violence targeted Rwandan immigrants left five dead.

Hundreds of refugees in St Ignatius church's Kalemba Hall were given an inpromtu visit by the Zambian President on April 21Facebook / St Ignatius Parish Youths

More than 250 were arrested in the capital Lusaka and at least 1,000 troops deployed to prevent further violence, according to home affairs minister Davies Mwila. The attacks came after rumours on social media claimed Rwandans were the culprits of a series of ritual killings, according to authorities.

St Ignatius Church in Lusaka now hosts more than 300 refugees, according to the Lusaka Times, and is struggling to provide basis supplies such as food and water.

President Edgar Lungu visited the church last week and claimed "full responsibility on behalf of the Zambian people" for the violence. "I also assure you of full protection and security of your person and property," he said.

Zambia has about 6,000 Rwandan immigrants and was "proud of providing hospitiality to refugees", said Father Cleophas Lungu, general secretary of the Zambia Episcopal Conference, in a telephone interview. He branded the attacks as "un-Zambian" and added the attacks could be an expression of growing frustration and high unemployment and deprivation.

"We have enormous challenges of poverty, but instead of addressing the root causes of our problems, immigrants are being scapegoated," he said.

Gary van Staden, a Zambian analyst at NKC Africa Economics, agreed. "This week's attacks on foreign nationals are more likely prompted by the fact they were easy targets and the victims of frustration and desperation," he said according to Bloomberg.

"The fact that the violence occurred in generally poor and marginalised communities provides a clue as to the real underlying causes."