MHRC, NGO query refugees’ relocation decision

Kenneth Zikhale Ng’oma

Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) Director of Civil and Political Rights Peter Chisi has described as unfortunate the government’s decision to relocate refugees and asylum seekers to Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Dowa District by mid this month.

He raised the sentiments at a press briefing held in Lilongwe Thursday, barely a week after the government announced the decision to relocate the people.

Chisi said the decision made by the government to relocate refugees and asylum seekers to their official home in the Central Region is “counter-productive and contradictory” because the people left the camp to look for livelihoods support, which is not available at the camp.


“Our position has not changed. We think that the decision is counter-productive; it is also contradictory because refugees that have relocated from the camp have done so in search of a livelihood. Some of them have found employment; others are actually conducting businesses and some have even integrated into society through marriage.

“We think that distracting those people and getting them back to the camp will not be fair to them and will also complicate the already bad situation at the camp,” he said.

Refugees and asylum seekers rights advocacy group, Inuo Advocacy, has echoed MHRC’s sentiments.


Inuo Advocacy Chief Executive Officer Innocent Magambe said relocating self-sufficient and productive refugees and asylum seekers to Dzaleka would only exacerbate problems.

“Already, those at Dzaleka are facing the problem of congestion,” he said.

He said, if thousands of people relocate to the camp, the provision of health, education and other services will be compromised.

Minister of Homeland Security Ken Zikhale Ng’oma said in a March 28 2023 statement that all refugees and asylum seekers residing in rural and urban areas should relocate to Dzaleka camp between April 1 and 15 this year.

Earlier this week, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the government differed on the issue of relocating refugees who stay in rural and urban areas to Dzaleka camp by April 15 this year.

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

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

In a statement, signed by UNHCR Country Coordinator Cyr Modeste Kouame, the UN agency says it 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 it 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 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 that is yet to materialise.

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