Malawi: Refugees or Economic Migrants?

(file photo).

A group of refugees and asylum seekers have obtained an injunction stopping the government from relocating them to Dzaleka Refugee Camp. And those who are protesting the relocation are wealth refugees operating lucrative businesses in cities and peri-urban centres.

What is intriguing is how the refugees are challenging government decision to confine them to the camp when they clearly know where they are supposed to be living. Refugees and asylum seekers are given conditions by the host country. And they are supposed to abide by those conditions.

In Malawi, like some African countries such as Kenya, refugees are kept in camps, knowing fully well that their status is in the host country is temporary. One day they will be repatriated to their home countries.

However, it is fair to speculate that some of the refugees contesting government relocation decision are not genuine refugees or asylum seekers but economic migrants looking for greener pastures. Many of them have set up successful businesses in cities and other places. This is not to say refugees cannot set up business ventures. But it raises question of how the previous governments allowed refugees to set up businesses everywhere in the country without enforcing immigration laws.

For more than two decades the locals have been complaining about refugees operating businesses willy-nilly everywhere they liked without being controlled. Some refugees have even bought land in cities and rural areas; others have bought houses.

Obviously, the refugees resisting relocation have viable businesses. They are inevitable protecting their economic interests. The picture that emerges is that many of these refugees are more of economic migrants who have trekked to Malawi greener pastures. Some of them may not be refugees at all, but fugitives who came to Malawi find solace. Some of them have acquired Malawian passports courtesy of corrupt immigration officials.

The question is: how did we get this far? It clear that the previous governments were sleeping on the job. They abdicated their responsibility to ensure that refugees are confined to the camp. They did not even take immigration laws seriously. Actually, some senior officials were aiding foreign nationals to acquire land and national identity documents in corrupt deals.

The Tonse government should not be blamed for the action it has taken. Malawi needs order. There are too many issues that need to be ironed out. When refugees challenge government not to be relocated to the camp their motives should be questioned. They should respect and abide by the laws of the country. They are here temporarily and one day they have to be repatriated to their countries.

If they wanted to set up their businesses, they should have followed the normal process by applying for Business Resident Permit (BRP) and register their foreign investment with a commercial bank. Genuine investors do not come as refugees or asylum seekers or operate a grocery or sell produce at the market.

We have to be wary of foreign nationals who come to live among us. Tonse government need to enforce and be tough with immigration laws.

More From: Nyasa Times

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