Geneva — The UN Refugee Agency cautions that the number of people fleeing Mozambique and seeking asylum in Malawi has increased significantly over the last few weeks, following clashes between government forces and the opposition Mozambican National Resistance, or RENAMO.
In the village of Kapise, Mwanza district some 100 kilometres south of the country's capital Lilongwe, UNHCR registration teams have recorded the arrival of 1,297 people, two thirds of them women and children, with over 900 people awaiting registration. Another 400 new arrivals have been reported in 16 villages located further south in the district of Chikwawa.
"UNHCR is working with the government to coordinate the response to assist these newly arrived refugees," UNHCR spokesperson Karin de Gruijl told reporters at a news briefing in Geneva on Friday (January 15).
The Mozambicans, who mainly originate from Tete province, have told UNHCR and local authorities that they fled fighting between opposition RENAMO and government forces, de Gruijl said. Refugee women told a UNHCR protection officer how their homes were burned down with one grandmother left inside to die.
"They say that government forces are attacking villages believed to be harbouring opposition members," de Gruijl noted, cautioning that UNHCR had not been able to confirm the accuracy of these allegations. "Some parents also stated they have been separated from their children during flight and they have not been able to find them," she added.
In mid-2015, UNHCR and the government of Malawi recorded some 700 arrivals from Mozambique in the same area. UNHCR provided relief items, such as blankets, tents, domestic items and agricultural tools. Agreements were made with the national and local authorities for the refugees to be hosted in local communities as it was believed at that time the situation would be temporary. In the past few weeks, however the situation has changed with more and more people crossing into Malawi.
The Refugee Agency assists the government with the registration of new arrivals and the provision of tents, as well as domestic utensils, mattresses and other basic relief items. The World Food Programme is providing food and Doctors Without Borders (MSF) is already on the ground with a mobile clinic.
Malaria is a major concern and the number of patients seen daily has increased from 70 to 250. With the looming fear of a cholera outbreak, MSF has been quick to drill two boreholes and are planning on drilling a third to improve the water supply.
The UN Children's Fund, UNICEF, is putting up temporary latrines and washrooms to avert health disasters and has also provided two large tents where children can play and learn. UNFPA plans to work on maternal health. The Government of Malawi is considering reopening Luwani refugee camp, which previously hosted refugees from Mozambique during the civil war (1977 -1992), when over a million Mozambican refugees fled to neighbouring Malawi.
Malawi already hosts some 25,000 refugees mostly from the Great Lakes region in Dzaleka camp located some 35 kilometres from Lilongwe. This camp stretched to capacity and with food rations being reduced to 50 per cent since October last year, and the resources to assist refugees are limited.