Lilongwe — Despite shocking claims by a government minister, attacks against people with albinism have reached unprecedented levels, such that these vulnerable members of society are seeking asylum abroad.
With at least five cases this year, the most recent being the abduction of a 14-year-old male in the central Dedza region, Homeland Security Minister, Nicholas Dausi, has sparked outrage following his assertion that such violations had not reached crisis stages.
Two fatalities and three abductions have been documented since December 31, 2018. Two of those who were abducted were later rescued by community members who have stepped in amid outcry authorities were lax.
One victim, a girl aged a year-and-a-half, remains missing and is feared dead.
There have been at least 19 killings and 150 attacks since 2015.
Dausi's remarks came in the wake of demands by people with albinism for government to declare Malawi unsafe for them, to enable them to seek asylum out of the country.
The Association of People Living with Albinism in Malawi (APAM) has met diplomats in the country to seek asylum for people with the condition.
The organisation believes the government of President Peter Mutharika has failed to protect them from gangs targeting them, buoyed by the false belief that their body parts bring luck.
These escalations have coincided with elections set for May. It is believed some politicians are behind the surge as they seek to enhance their prospects of winning.
APAM has met United States (US) Ambassador to Malawi, Virginia Palmer, with a view to arrange asylum for its vulnerable members.
The organisation has also withdrawn its support of the government's taskforce on people with albinism.
Human rights groups lamented the comments by the security minister.
Amnesty International said the utterances would only embolden those perpetrating the assaults and were a disturbing reminder of the government's inaction on the issue.
"The latest comments from Minister Nicholas Dausi are yet another indication that persons with albinism in Malawi are on their own when it comes to their safety and security," said Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International's regional director, said.
"For years, people with albinism have been living at the mercy of criminal gangs who target them for their body parts," the human rights advocate said.
Mwananyanda said the recent spike in attacks shows that the government, despite amending the Anatomy Act and the Penal Code to ensure stiffer penalties, had not lived up to its commitments on protecting albinos.
The amendments, made in 2016, promulgate life sentences for people found with human body parts. Previously, culprits were liable to a prison sentence of ten years.
Mutharika is a strong proponent of the life sentence against albino killers.
He has slammed them as "senseless, primitive and foolish."
Dr Hetherwick Ntaba, chairperson of the government's taskforce on people with albinism, said the organisation was committed to eradicate attacks.
"We are doing everything we can to protect victims," Ntaba said.
The current population of people with albinism in Malawi is estimated at between 7 000 and 10 000, in a country of over 18 million people.