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Government sets deadline for refugees’ return to camp

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Building on the ‘all clear’ signal that it recently got from the courts, govt is wasting little time with its planned return of refugees to Dzaleka, giving them a cut-off point of February 1 next year

By Deogratias Mmana

The Ministry of Homeland Security has set November 30, 2022 and February 1, 2023 for refugees and asylum seekers in rural and urban areas respectively to relocate to Dzaleka Refugee camp.

The government’s notice comes following a High Court Judge Mandala Mambulasa decision on August 12, 2022 that vacated an injunction on the application of Abdul Nahimana on his own behalf and refugees and asylum seekers and Samuel Mkumbira versus Minister of Homeland Security in judicial review case number 18 of 2021.

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The injunction restrained the government from relocating refugees and asylum seekers back to the camp.

Principal Secretary for Homeland Security ministry Oliver Kumbambe said in a statement dated August 17, 2022, that all refugees and asylum seekers in rural areas should relocate to Dzaleka Refugee camp by November 30, 2022 and those in urban areas to do so too by February 1, 2023.

“It must be mentioned that in establishing the Dzaleka Refugee camp with assistance from UNHCR [United Nations High Commission for Refugees], government made appropriate provision for a safe stay for all refugees and asylum seekers,” Kumbambe said.

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He added that the said provision meets the required international standards with regard to refugees and asylum seekers. The said standards, he said, include Katubzya primary and secondary schools, the Dzaleka health centre under the Ministry of Health and Dzaleka market under the Ministry of Local Government.

“Kindly note that once back in the camp, everyone is allowed to leave the camp with permission which requires one to return before the expiration of the specified period given,” Kumbambe said in the statement.

Kumbambe also warned the public against getting involved in the relocation exercise, saying it is only the Malawi Police Service and Department of Immigration and Citizenship Services and the refugees and asylum seekers that will be involved.

“If any person or group of persons is found meddling in this or harassing the refugees and asylum seekers in any way, the government will ensure that such individuals are met with the full arm of the law,” Kumbambe warned.

According to UNHCR page unhcr.org, as of December 2021, Malawi hosted 52,678 persons of concern to UNHCR.

UNHCR says of the total population of persons of concern, 21,530 have refugee status; 30,910 are asylum seekers with 238 others of concern, making the refugee situation protracted.

The commission says Dzaleka is a protracted camp with a monthly average of 300 new arrivals with the following breakdown: 62 percent from the Democratic Republic of Congo; 19 percent from Burundi; 7 percent from Rwanda and 2 percent other nationalities.

Of the new arrivals, 45 percent are women while 48 percent are children. The camp, which was designed to host between 10,000 to 12,000 persons of concern, now hosts over 52,000 individuals.

In April last year, the government gave the refugees and asylum seekers who had left the country’s only refugee camp and were staying in rural areas of the country 14 days to return to the camp or face eviction.

On June 9, 2021, the court granted permission to apply for judicial review and stay of the government’s decision.

Last week, Judge Mandala Mambulasa removed the injunction and Senior Legal Advisor in the office of Commissioner for Refugees and Supervisor for refugee status, Ivy Chihana, said the removal of the injunction meant the government’s directive had to be implemented immediately.

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