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Refugees block government directive

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Richard Chimwendo Banda

Refugees residing and operating businesses in various locations have obtained a court order against government’s directive that they return to Dzaleka Camp by close of business today.

Government, through the Ministry of Homeland Security, wants all refugees and asylum seekers who illegally left the camp to return to the site in line with the Encampment Policy which requires all refugees and asylum seekers to ply their trade within the camp.

But an order which the High Court has granted one Elie Umukunzi states that the relocation exercise should be stayed until a judicial review of the matter is concluded.

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The court has ordered Umukunzi to file her application for judicial review within seven days with the respondents—the Secretary for Homeland Security and Commissioner for Refugees and the Inspector General of Police— responding within 14 days.

“Trial of the judicial review proceedings shall be held within 21 days after service of defence and skeleton arguments in defence,” the court’s order reads, in part.

Minister of Homeland Security Richard Chimwendo Banda said in an interview yesterday that the government will definitely counter the refugees’ application.

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“I have received a soft copy of the injunction but I have called for the hard copy. Suffice to say that we will respect the rule of law.

“We had, however, already deployed police officers in various spots across the country and the injunction means we have to withdraw them,” Chimwendo Banda said.

Our visits to a number of townships in Lilongwe yesterday, before the court order had been granted, revealed that some refugees had cooperated with the government’s order to return to Dzaleka Camp.

However, a group of small-scale business operators, which has been backing government’s decision, said its investigations had revealed that some refugees had just moved from one area to another.

The group’s spokesperson, Joseph Mkwangwanya, further alleged that they were aware that some refugees had decided to keep low profiles until the situation calmed down.

“But we are urging our members to desist from taking the law into their own hands,” Mkwangwanya said.

On Monday, the Malawi Human Rights Commission said it was assessing the situation at Dzaleka Refugee Camp to see if basic human rights are being respected at the site.

Currently, Malawi hosts about 49,000 refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Ethiopia and Somalia.

Government’s decision to relocate those who are residing or operating businesses outside Dzaleka Camp has been met with mixed reactions with some quarters arguing the law that governs refugees’ presence in Malawi should be ultimately respected.

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