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Refugee camp project divides Karonga leaders

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Tension is brewing among people of Karonga as reports indicate that divisions have rocked traditional leaders and human rights activists over government’s decision to relocate Dzaleka Refugee Camp from Dowa to the district.

The differences come after a 20-member delegation was last week sent on a study tour to Dzaleka by the Ministry of Home Affairs and Internal Security to appreciate the situation there.

The refugee camp project received opposition from different groups in the district, with few people led by Paramount Chief Kyungu, who allocated government a piece of land at Katili supporting it.

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But during the tour, The Daily Times has established that Kyungu and the ministry officials earned support from veteran politician Green Mwamondwe and outspoken activist Wavisanga Silungwe who, at first, strongly opposed the idea when it was introduced few months ago.

After the trip, Mwamondwe, who has been chosen chairperson of the steering committee of the Katili project, told Zodiak Broadcasting Station that benefits of the project outweigh the constraints

Their new stand has not gone down well with members of the business community and the Karonga- Chitipa Heritage group, who have vowed to do everything possible to stop the project.

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On his part, youth activist Steven Simsokwe has vowed to organise mass anti-government protests.

General Secretary of the heritage group, Wantwa Mwahimba accused Kyungu of failing to protect the interests of the people and Mwamondwe of “betraying the trust that the locals had in him.”

He wondered why proponents of the project are paying a blind eye to the pressure that the 30,000 refugees currently held at Dzaleka will bring to Karonga, which he said is already prone to natural disasters.

Member of Parliament for Karonga Central Constituency, Frank Mwenifumbo, who is also member of the heritage group and was part of the delegation to Dzaleka, sided with Mwahimba in a separate interview yesterday.

He said Karonga is faced with rapid population growth such that resources like land will be overwhelmed by integrating in the refugees from Dzaleka.

Mwenifumbo wondered why government, with support from United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), is failing to facilitate voluntary repatriation for a majority of refugees whose home countries are no longer in conflict.

“People of Karonga are not against the refugees, but all they are trying to do is to prioritise their welfare; the internal land conflicts are enough already,” Mwenifumbo said.

Asked on the impression he had after touring Dzaleka, Mwenifumbo disclosed that as a pre-arranged trip, the delegation was taken to attractive spots only over the ugly side of the camp.

Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs, Benson Chisamile, did not pick our call after calling him several times.

But in earlier interviews he said the relocation is among other reasons an attempt by the government to comply with UNHCR regulations of placing a refugee camp on not less than 50-kilometre radius from a capital city.

Meanwhile, Kyungu and others have flown to Uganda on a similar mission to appreciate how the country has benefited from a similar refugee camp project.

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