United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) officials were left looking for answers when they realised on Friday that close to 14 Mozambican asylum seekers based in Nsanje had bolted from the camp just before the group was relocated to Luwani camp in Mwanza.
UNHCR had set Friday morning to relocate the 95 asylum seekers who were being accommodated at old Mota Angel road construction camp to the refurbished Luwani Refugee Camp in Neno.
Going through their registers and the final head count of the asylum seekers who were on board the two hired buses destined for Luwani, it was confirmed that only 81 were on board ready to leave.
One of the asylum seekers Pesulo Loponi said in an interview that some had earlier expressed unwillingness to relocate for fear that they would no longer be in touch with their relatives in Mozambique.
“Nsanje is closer to Mozambique and they believe other family member will find them here. That is why they are not willing to relocate. Some of them have relatives in Nsanje and we believe they have integrated with the communities around,” said Loponi, a representative of the Nsanje asylum seekers.
Elsie Bertha Mills- Tettey, UNHCR Field Officer responsible for protection, said the humanitarian organisation was carrying out the relocation exercise following Malawi government’s decision to have them relocated to a more coordinated place.
“Some of them are awaiting their families and once they are ready to relocate we will make the necessary arrangement,” said Mills- Tettey.
She also clarified that the Mozambicans remain asylum seekers until the Government of Malawi and Mozambique agree.
“Though they are going to be in a camp they remain asylum seekers. The place [in Mwanza] has undergone refurbishments and while there they will be under our care and protection. We will make sure they are provided with food, shelter, education and health amenities,” she said.
Assistant Immigration Officer for Nsanje Charles Chikaonda confirmed the missing of the some of the asylum seekers.
“Together with the district council and police, we are investigating their whereabouts. Some of them, we are informed, have integrated into the community and it is our duty to look for them and take the necessary steps,” said Chikaonda.
Meanwhile, another group of asylum seekers has also been discovered in Chikwawa.
“A team of officials from UNHCR has already been despatched to ascertain how many they are. They too will be relocated to Luwani camp,” said Kelvin Shimoh, UNHCR Malawi Reporting and Information Officer.
Malawi has been experiencing an influx of asylum seekers from Mozambique since last year.
The number of the Mozambican seeking asylum in Malawi now stands at 11, 100 including those at Kapise in Mwanza.
They have been trooping to Malawi following reports of political conflict in Mozambique. The Mozambican government has however denied that there is conflict in the country.
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