Student Perspective

411 on the PI Team – Skyler Schoolfield

Ruth, Eve, and Skyler

UP Zambia primarily works with juveniles, but they also work with other vulnerable populations, such as prohibited immigrants. UP Zambia is the primary advocate for prohibited immigrants that have been detained by the Zambia Department of Immigration. Prohibited Immigrants (PI) are people who have been arrested for illegal entry, illegal stay, overstaying their visa, or leaving the camp without a gate pass (refugees only). Surprisingly, most of the PIs are legally in the country, and they often have their refugee papers, visa, and/or passport on them when they are arrested, yet they are arrested anyway.  The prohibited immigrant team works with the Commission of Refugees to get the arrested refugees sent back to their refugee camp, and they work with Immigration to organize the court appearances and deportation for the remaining prohibited immigrants.

The PI team consists of four members: Eve, Veronica, Yoram, and Fanny. Eve is the team leader. She primarily works in Lusaka Central Male; Veronica primarily works Lusaka Central Female; Yoram primarily works in Kamwala Remand, and Fanny does majority of the follow ups. During the month of June, three interns joined the PI team: Ruth from Northrise University, and Taylor and I from Baylor Law School.

In the morning, the PI team is at the prisons. The PI team interviews new clients, follows up with clients, and socializes with the clients to make sure that they feel they are not forgotten. The team rarely has time to breathe while they are there. Especially when there is a large intake of new PIs, which typically happens on Mondays. There are as many as 50 new PIs at a time. The very first day that I went to Lusaka Central we had 48 new PIs. The PI team member for that prison will interview and fill out the migrant form for every new migrant. This can take from 8:30 to 4 and there can still be migrants that need to be interviewed the following day.

The afternoons are spent either at the prisons finishing the work from the morning or spent following up with the immigration office, the commission of refugees, the International Organization for Migrants, or the embassies. UP Zambia has built relationships with the multiple government offices and aid organizations, and those relationships have greatly improved the lives and outcomes of their clients.

When I first arrived at the immigration office, I was shocked at how cooperative and friendly the immigration officers were. I was expecting backlash and pushback, but we were greeted by name and with (almost) open files. The officers seemed to actually care about what we had to say and were as frustrated as we were about the status of so many PIs. There was only one instance in which we did not experience such a relationship. Taylor, Ruth, and I went to the immigration office without an UP Zambia staff member. He greeted us, but once we got started with the meeting, he refused to continue talking to us. We still do not know why there was such a change in our interactions that day, but the situation was resolved by a simple letter the following week.

Back: Ruth and Veronica. Front: Skyler and Taylor

This team does more than provide legal assistance; they also provide friendship. Every time Eve or Veronica enter the female section, all of the PI ladies come running towards them. They talk, tell jokes, share food, and provide comfort. Frequently Yoram has 10 or more PIs surrounding him at Kamwala. This team cares about these migrants as people and as clients. This is why the team is so successful.

Student Perspective

A Prohibited Immigrant – Taylor Volesky

The last day that I went to Lusaka Central, a Prohibited Immigrant who had translated for me frequently, came up to me and told me that he and 10 other Congolese were being sent back to the Democratic Republic of Congo. He was so happy and thanked me over and over again. Knowing the work I did following up and just generally caring about their cases helped them made the entire time I spend in Zambia worth it. The cases were not practically difficult but the biggest issue was always following up with cases and making sure that immigration knew they were imprisoned.

The big issue we ran into when trying to follow up with cases was the Immigration officer deciding that he didn’t want to deal with us anymore and wouldn’t give us anymore information regarding our clients. We think a big reason for that was the fact that Eve, our boss and the one he normally deals with, was out the whole week. Sky and I took care of the interviews and follow-ups that week without her. A big problem that UP Zambia runs into is officials who want to help at certain times but then other times are unable to for various reasons.

A lot of the time Refugees would get stuck in the prison system. If we did not get their name and information to take to the Commission of Refugees or International Organization for Migration, then the refugee would pointlessly stay in prison for lack of funds to transport. A big issue was the Zambian government only deports people when they have enough people from one country that it is economically feasible to take all the prisoners back to their country.