THE government has denied reports claiming that Malawians in Tanzania were targeted in xenophobic attacks, noting however, that some 1,030 of the neighbouring country's citizens were netted in the ongoing operation against illegal immigrants.
The Director of Information Services, Mr Assah Mwambene explained in Dar es Salaam that no Malawian had been harassed during the operation as reported by a section of the media in Malawi.
"These reports are false as there is no single Malawian who has been harassed as it has been suggested in the paper (The Malawi Times)," Mr Mwambene said.
According to Mr Mwambene, those nabbed were given the option to fill out immigration papers to state whether they still wanted to remain in the country or not.
He added that some 25,000 illegal immigrants from the other neighbouring countries of Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) were sent back to their home countries as a result of being found living in the country illegally.
The government has declared a crackdown against illegal immigrants in an operation codenamed "Kimbunga" (Whirlwind) that was kicked off recently by President Jakaya Kikwete largely as a response to a rising wave of foreign instigated crime in the country.
The Malawi Times newspaper claimed over the weekend that some citizens from that country were beaten, raped and had their houses set on fire.
It also added that their property was stolen. The paper likened the "incidents" to the xenophobic attacks in South Africa in April 2008, for which Pretoria has since publicly apologised.
For her part, the Immigration Officer for Dar es Salaam, Ms Grace Hokororo reiterated that no Malawian had been harassed by authorities.
"Since 2001 we have been registering illegal immigrants living in Tanzania and we found out that over 1,000 Malawians were living illegally in Tanzania," Ms Hokororo said.
"During the week, Malawi News has received distress calls from a number of Malawians living in Tanzania that they were beaten, raped, robbed and their houses looted and burnt down," a press report by the Malawi Times said.
However, Malawi's Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Mr Ephraim Chiume played down the reports, saying calling them xenophobic attacks would be an exaggeration.
The newspaper said it had contacted Mr Chiume in a telephone interview on Thursday from Namibia where he was attending a Southern African Development Community (SADC) Troika summit, where he said he had raised the issue with his Tanzanian counterpart, Mr Bernard Membe.
Mr Chiume said Mr Membe explained to him that the Tanzanian government has been calling on people of different nationalities living in Tanzania who had requisite papers to register with the immigration department in order to normalise their status.
"Some have regularised their statuses while others have not and these ones, including some Malawians, were caught up in a sweeping exercise that was carried out by the authorities," the Malawian top diplomat was quoted as saying.
Mr Chiume said the Malawian embassy in Dar es Salaam is on top of the situation as officials have visited some of the trouble spots. He said the Malawi government has asked the Tanzanian authorities to provide security to Malawians.