Government, UNHCR tussle on refugees relocation

Moses Kunkuyu

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has expressed concern over the government’s decision to relocate refugees who stay in rural and urban areas to Dzaleka camp by April 15 this year.

The agency has told the government to put the exercise on hold.

However, the government has maintained that the exercise will proceed as it is only following international recognised protocols.


In a statement released Tuesday, signed by UNHCR Country Coordinator Cyr Modeste Kouame, the UN agency appreciates the leniency exercised by the government regarding previous relocation deadlines but has asked Lilongwe to reconsider its decision.

Kouame argues in the statement that Dzaleka camp is already congested, as it is presently accommodating nearly 50,000 people against its brim, which is 12,000 refugees.

“Relocating several thousand refugees back to the camp will have dire consequences on the provision of critical basic services such as health and education, as well as protection activities.


“The relocation means that children will have to leave their schools and for breadwinners [it means they have] to abandon their employment or small businesses and return to a camp where they will be dependent on humanitarian assistance,” Kouame said.

Further, the agency argues that the agency is battling underfunding such that, by March 28 2023, UNHCR had only received six percent of the required $27.2 million (about K28 billion) to adequately support refugees and asylum-seekers in Malawi this year.

In an interview, UNHCR’s Associate External Relations and Reporting Officer Kenyi Lukajo said the decision is also ill timed, considering that government and development partners’ efforts are towards Tropical Cyclone Freddy survivors.

In response, Information Minister Moses Kunkuyu said what Malawi wants is that everyone who is a refugee should go back to Dzaleka.

He said whoever wants another level of refugee status can apply to the government for consideration.

“We are doing this because we do not know how many refugees are residing in this country. There are people that come through uncharted routes but they are staying in our localities and they call themselves refugees, when there is no record of those people.

“There are also others whose refugee applications were not successful; instead of returning to their countries, these people found themselves in our locations and we have hundreds of thousands of those people… and some of these people are causing problems but cannot be tracked down because they have no IDs, no one knows them.

“So, we are saying let us have everyone who is a refugee out of the street to Dzaleka so that there is accountability. If they have to apply for a different level of their refugee status, where they can be allowed to do business or work, let that be followed through the laws,” Kunkuyu said.

Sometime last year, the UN agency disclosed that there were plans to renovate Luwani Refugee Camp to decongest Dzaleka, a plan yet to materialise as, according to Lukajo, UNCHR is still mobilising funds for the project.

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