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Government irks MPs on refugees

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Ben Phiri

The Parliamentary Committee on Trade, Industry and Tourism has expressed surprise at the authorities’ failure to relocate all refugees and asylum seekers to Dzaleka Refugee Camp even though the court gave a go-ahead.

The committee has further questioned the authorities for failing to execute the exercise even when there are provisions in place for the refugees and asylum seekers to be at the camp.

The committee said this when it met Small Scale Business Operators Association at Parliament Tuesday where the two sides agreed that the refugees and asylum seekers plying businesses in locations ought to be sent back to Dzaleka.

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However, the committee asked the business operators not to start chasing away the foreigners, but wait for the committee to take up the issue with all involved stakeholders this week.

The association’s chairperson, Tennyson Mulimbula, said the government has so far failed to move all the foreigners in rural areas by November 30 2021 as it said.

He said there is now doubt if those in urban areas would be relocated by February 2 this year as promised.

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Sitting in for the committee’s chairperson, Thyolo Central lawmaker, Ben Phiri, said even though the court gave a go-ahead for the government to relocate them, nothing tangible has been done to date.

“Different articles do explain the rights of a refugee. Their territory is within the refugee camps. It ends there. But most of them are in our location plying different trades,” he said.

The committee was informed that out of about 8,000 asylum seekers and refugees, only about 47 had gone back to the camp.

During the meeting, the committee members, including Chiradzulu Central parliamentarian Joseph Mwanamvekha and Mangochi Central MP, Victoria Kingstone, said if the country was to go by the law, all refugees and asylum seekers were supposed to be at Dzaleka Refugee Camp.

“There is a difference between investors and a refugee,” Mwanamvekha said.

The association told the committee that the foreign nationals have penetrated most areas with some engaging in uncompetitive business practices which they said disadvantages local traders

Others, they said, are doing small businesses such as distilling local brew, kachasu, selling snacks as well as doing motorcycle taxi business which are supposed to be done locals.

“We can ably do those businesses. The markets in which these refugees and asylum seekers are doing their businesses were started by Malawians before the foreigners came.

“Even if all of them go, we have the ability to do the businesses as we used to do before,” Mulimbula said.

Lilongwe City Council officials also told the committee that one of the reasons preventing them from relocating the refugees and asylum seekers was lack of resources.

In December last year, Secretary for Homeland Security Oliver Kumbambe, said some of the refugees and asylum seekers had started going back to the camp while others wanted the government to facilitate their return to respective countries.

In August 2022, the High Court removed an injunction for a judicial review that was sought by asylum seekers and refugees, stopping the government’s order for all refugees and asylum seekers to return to Dzaleka Refugee Camp.

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