Desperate search for haven of peace
Six children between the ages of two and five years sit dispassionately under a tree outside a one-bedroomed house they are staying in in Chiphwanya Village, Traditional Authority Nkumba, in Mangochi District.
This place has been their home since December 23 2021 when they arrived from Luchinga in Mozambique, where they fled a raging conflict.
On this day, it is already way past 12 noon, but the children and their older relations have not had their first meal.
They are not sure where their next meal will come from after they exhausted the lone bag of maize which they had the time they arrived at their temporary home.
When they finally arrived in Malawi, 86-year-old Namanya Anderson, whose wife originally comes from Nsanje, heaved a sigh of relief seeing his people out of harm’s way.
“The rebels are killing people and looting property mercilessly. I was staying in Cete Malanga in Luchinga. My other relatives were living in a sub-district close by. The rebels came to their village and killed the whole family before looting everything they had,” Anderson says.
The attack prompted him to escape to Malawi for safety. It was easy to convince his eight children to abandon the family’s home in search of a haven of peace.
Anderson claims that back home to left 10 hectares of sugarcane and separate gardens of cassava, rice, banana, maize and sweet potatoes.
“I also had goats, chicken and rabbits. My family could eat whatever they wanted but, today, I am literally begging for alms to see another day. This is something I never expected to happen to me,” he narrates, wiping out tears welling up in his eyes.
Even the money he left Mozambique with turned out to be not enough and got depleted along the way.
“I was the one paying transport fares for 17 people. We came across a vehicle that was ferrying people to Malawi. We were charged a lot of money to board the car only to be abandoned when the police stopped it for overloading. We never got the money back,” Anderson says.
The second vehicle they boarded after walking for some kilometres dumped them at Nkumba Health Centre along the Chiponde Liwonde-Road.
Finally, they were in Malawi, a place they had so much longed for, but without a fixed destination.
Minutes turned into hours and darkness fell eventually. Rain started falling too and the children were shivering due to chilly weather.
Locals became suspicious of Anderson and his compatriots and went ahead to alert Village Head Chiphwanya, in whose area the health centre is.
Luckily, Anderson speaks a bit of Chichewa and Chiyao, as this is the second time he has fled to Malawi, and he was able to explain their ordeal to local authorities.
Village Head Chiphwanya reported the case of the Mozambicans to T/A Nkumba, who advised him to find means of keeping the fleers safe as the matter was being reported to authorities.
“A woman in my village offered to keep them in a house she was renting,” Chiphwanya explains.
The lady, identified as Siphat Faki, handed over a 50-kilogramme bag of maize to the Mozambicans. She had bought the maize for her family but decided the foreigners’ crisis was worse than her family’s.
“I could not stand seeing children staying without eating anything. It was a sad sight for me and I told my children to allow me to give the Mozambicans the maize although I had no idea where we would get our own food,” Faki says.
The maize that she gave to the asylum seekers lasted just four days—not enough to take 17 people through more days.
The Good Samaritan is still keeping the Mozambicans at her place and shares with them the little food that she accesses now and then.
“We are waiting for the government to find a solution for these people,” Faki says.
Apart from food and lodging space, the asylum seekers have further increased pressure on the available sanitary facilities at the place.
The 17 Mozambicans and Faki’s family are using a single pit latrine and a bathroom, something that may expose them to sanitation-related infections.
They also had few kitchen utensils before Malawi Red Cross Society donated some on Tuesday.
Anderson has accepted their condition and only hopes peace will return back home as soon as possible so that he and his compatriots can return.
Mangochi District Commissioner Raphael Piringu says his office has already consulted the Ministry of Homeland Security on how the matter, touching on two nations, can be best handled.
Minister responsible Richard Chimwendo Banda recently disclosed that government is observing the situation to see how best to assist the affected people in line with international laws.
In the meantime, the ministry has assigned officers to interview the people before determining their actual status and how to assist them.
Meanwhile, international media say two factions have emerged from the rebels who are fighting government in the Cabo Delgado region in Mozambique.
The breakaway faction is reportedly assaulting and killing local people as its members around villages searching for food on which to survive.