Malawi: HRDC Warns Malawi Govt On Relocation of Refugees to Avoid Sparking Xenophobia

21 April 2021

The Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) has warned the Malawi Government to tread carefully on the implementation of its order to

relocate refugees and asylum seekers back to Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Dowa.

The human rights watchdog fears the action may spark xenophobia against the refugees if the government does not handle the matter


Last week, the Malawi Government issued a 14-day ultimatum to 2, 000 refugees illegally living outside the camp to return to their base.

The Minister of Homeland Security, Richard Chimwendo Banda, cited national security as one of the reasons behind the relocation of the

foreign migrants from previous and current war torn countries.

However, HRDC chairperson Gift Trapence asked the Malawi Government to ensure that it is not promoting xenophobic attacks against foreigners.

Trapence said the government should make sure that they allow people who have legal documents of doing business and residence to stay.

"Government should adhere to principles of human rights as they are implementing their action. It is important to comply with international refugees' law. Refugees are one of the most vulnerable groups as such government should make sure that they execute the actions within the laws of this country and international refugee law," he said.

Earlier on Tuesday, the refugees and asylum seekers who are living outside the camp addressed journalists at Dzaleka Refugee Camp where they pleaded with the Malawi Government to rescind its decision to relocate them back to Dzaleka Refugee camp.

The press briefing followed consultations among the foreign nationals, representatives of the Burundians, Rwandese and Congolese nationals at the camp.

They decried the move as detrimental to their wellbeing, citing security of their investments across the country and poor conditions at the refugee camp.

"We are begging government to listen to us as their children. What we are saying is that, look, we are not against government's position but if we go by the 28th April deadline, we will not be able to move in time as some of us have businesses, some have houses and other properties. Government should allow us one more year so that we can finish our businesses and go back to the camp," said Roman Bijangala, a representative of Congolese nationals.

He further urged government to ensure there is a proper plan to ensure property of the foreign migrants is not looted or any migrant suffer xenophobic attack out of the decision.

Kanamula John, a representative of Rwandese community at the refugee camp, said one of the main concerns of the foreign nationals was the challenge of congestion at Dzaleka refugee camp.

"The camp was supposed to house some 10, 000 people but we are now over 40, 000 and the people who are returning will not easily find space. That means more diseases and hardships as the cold season starts. We are pleading with government to review its position. Some of us have married Malawian women and some Malawian men have married refugees. We don't know what will happen to our children, so this is not a decision that is easy for us," said John.

But Chimwendo yesterday said while government would consider protecting the investments some of the business persons have made in the country via case to case review of applications, the priority of the government was for every refugee to immediately return to the camp and be accounted for.

"It's a bad approach to go to the media before approaching us. It's not just about the business issue, there are other issues we are looking into, we are not chasing them, and we just want them to be where they should be. We had problems in the system then and we are asking them to follow the law and go back to Dzaleka. Those who have businesses and want to bring to attention their special cases, we can handle that it case by case, but they will have to operate from

Dzaleka. They can operate from Dzaleka, let them go to the camp and we might consider their cases," said Chimwendo.

Chimwendo said government's view does not amount to discrimination of the refugees and said those who are keen on continuing plying trade should seek proper licenses like all foreign investors.

On the status of the refugee camp, Chimwendo said government was working with UNCHR to address challenges cited by the refugees.

Some 48, 547 refugees and asylum seekers reside in Malawi's Dzaleka Refugee Camp as of 31 January 2021.

Additionally, 187 new arrivals and 120 newborn babies were registered in the camp.

UNHCR officials have not commented on the matter.

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