Committees back government on refugees
By Cathy Maulidi:
Parliament has endorsed government’s move to relocate refugees from various locations to Dzaleka Camp in Dowa.
In a statement released Monday, chairpersons of committees of Defence and Security, International Relations and Trade and Industry have supported the move, saying government is acting according to laws governing refugees.
The chairpersons namely, Paul Nkhoma of Trade, Ralph Jooma of Defence and Patrick Bandawe of International Relations are of the same view as government, that the refugees are taking business opportunities from Malawians.
Chairperson of chairpersons of parliamentary committees, Joyce Chitsulo, has also signed the endorsement.
“On behalf of the three committees, whose functions are collectively responsible in providing oversight on refugees in this country, we have noted with appreciation the action taken by government in enforcing the law on refugees.
“We have noted that the action by government follows the behaviour of some refugees whose conduct in living and doing business outside designated refugee camps without any permit is inconsistent with the law that regulates refugees and asylum seekers in this country,” the statement reads.
Over the weekend, Minister of Homeland Security Ken Zikhale Ng’oma had a meeting with United Nations (UN) officials, where he put his foot down on relocating the refugees.
The UN officials had reportedly requested Ng’oma to rescind his decision, which they said is affecting innocent children and their right to education.
But in their statement, the three committees of Parliament maintain that the Malawi Government has not broken any law or any UN conventions which it is party to.
“As a member of the [UN], which has domesticated some UN conventions on refugees, we note that the Malawi Government is acting within the law governing refugees in this country and as committee chairpersons, we endorse the action taken by the Ministry of Homeland Security in enforcing the law,” the statement adds.
According to the committees, what some of the refugees were doing by “freely wandering around and in certain cases, operating businesses without permits” was a recipe for chaos and rendered Malawi’s laws on refugees almost useless.
“We would not want to see lawlessness prevail in the manner in which refugees behave in this country. We, therefore, wish to strongly encourage the Minister of Homeland Security to ensure that the exercise continues within the law and observance of human rights by the law enforcers,” the committees have said.
During a press briefing on the night of Friday, Principal Secretary for the National Registration Bureau, Mphatso Sambo, said some refugees were found with Malawi national identity cards and that necessary action will be taken on them.
He said the search continues as the screening of refugees is also in progress.
Zikhale claimed there are 552 foreign nationals who are answering war crimes in their countries but “are parading themselves as refugees”.
Commissioner for Refugees Ignacio Maulana said as of Friday, 650 refugees had gone back to Dzaleka Camp.
The relocation exercise started with Lilongwe last week and government insisted it would spread across the country.
Last week, at the handing over of a classroom block constructed at Dzaleka with support from the European Union, Secretary for Education Chikondano Mussa charged that “refugee children” who go to school will not be given any preferential treatment in terms of infrastructure they have to use.
Mussa said the children will have lessons under trees and overlapping and double shifts if the structures are not enough just as is the case with several public schools in the country.
“We have large enrolments in all schools. What we do out there is to insist on double shifting to make use of the classrooms available, overlapping to make use of the teachers available and for secondary schools, we go the digital way: open and distance learning,” she said.
Recently, the UN refugee agency, UNCHR, expressed concern over the decision to go ahead with the relocation exercise.
The Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) also condemned the relocation, arguing that the action presented a “gross violation of human rights and international refugee law”.
HRDC argued that refugees are individuals who fled their countries due to reasons such as war and ethnic, tribal and religious violence.
Meanwhile, police in the Northern Region have said the relocation of the refugees to Dzaleka has started on a “good note”.
The region’s police chief Noel Kayira had confirmed by the time we went to press yesterday that the law enforcers had rounded up about 10 families.
Kayira said two of the families were residing at Jenda Rural Growth Centre while seven were in Nkhata Bay.
The police commissioner said they will soon take the exercise to Chitipa, Karonga, Rumphi, Likoma and Mzuzu City, where the majority of the refugees are believed to be illegally staying.
The families were reportedly being ferried to the refugee camp in Dowa.