Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) Executive Secretary Habiba Osman has disclosed that the rights body is assessing the situation at Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Dowa to understand how the foreign nationals are living there.
Government recently ordered that refugees and asylum seekers who left the camp to reside or operate businesses in various locations should return by Wednesday.
Nevertheless, Osman said as an independent national human rights institution whose primary function is to protect human rights and investigate their violations, MHRC is interested to understand whether several rights are being accessed at the camp.
“We want to appreciate the situation at the camp. For instance, there are social amenities that are supposed to be found wherever human beings reside.
“Additionally, human beings are supposed to live in places where minimum standards in terms of their dignity are ensured,” Osman said in an interview Monday.
She further disclosed that MHRC will be assessing whether the government is acting in line with international human rights treaties and other instruments that it is party to.
According to Osman, while relocating the refugees and asylum seekers might be in line with relevant laws, it is also important to ensure that no human rights are violated.
However, Minister of Homeland Security, Richard Chimwendo Banda, has insisted on government’s decision that the refugees should return to the camp.
Chimwendo, who confirmed having organised a meeting with Minister of Justice Titus Mvalo, MHRC, the police, the Immigration Department and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, maintained that government’s decision stands.
“The government is aware of isolated cases of some asylum seekers who have been doing business in the country. This will be taken care of,” Chimwendo Banda said.
But chairperson of a group of refugees and asylum seekers, Placid Bisinga, wants the government to suspend the directive due to “congestion at the camp” and “business interests”.
He said forcing the refugees back to the camp would heavily affect their livelihoods.
“We want the government to give us enough time so that we can prepare for our return. Some of us have married Malawians and we have children that we should properly prepare for the exercise,” Bisinga said.
On his part, chairperson of the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC), Gift Trapence, said while HRDC is not against the government’s decision to relocate refugees and asylum seekers to the camp, the exercise should be done in a way that their rights are protected.
Malawi currently hosts close to 40,000 refugees, most of them from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Ethiopia and Somalia.