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Residents petition House over refugee camp transfer

People of Karonga and Chitipa, under Karonga Chitipa Cultural Heritage, Thursday marched to Parliament building in Lilongwe and delivered a petition against the government’s plans to move the refugee camp from Dzaleka in Dowa to Katili in Karonga.

In the petition, submitted to the office of the Speaker of Parliament and copied to the Minister of Home Affairs and Internal Security, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) country representative and Karonga District Commissioner, petitioners have cited eight reasons for taking such a stance.

Former Malawi Human Rights Commission chairperson Sophie Kalinde led the petitioners. Some Members of Parliament from the Northern Region, among them Werani Chilenga, Kamlepo Kalua, Agness Nyalonje and Frank Mwenifumbo, carried placards in solidarity.

According to the petitioners, the transfer from Dzaleka is premised on insecurity concerns due to the camp’s proximity to Lilongwe City. They say Karonga- Chitipa residents are equally concerned about their security.

“Moving the camp to Karonga increases the insecurity aspect for government, given the high incidence of crime at Dzaleka despite its proximity to the headquarters with all the security apparatus. The presence of the Ministry of Home Affairs, Malawi Police Service, Malawi Defense Force and the technical arm of government affords an easier environment for control of urban refugees, including the ability for their integration directly, given the goal of UNHCR, during the briefing at the meeting in the Ministry of Home Affairs [office] on 2nd November 2016,” reads the petition in part.

They said police funding in Karonga is so meagre that even arresting a common criminal takes longer than necessary, thereby jeopardising security.

“Karonga District has no prison services. The recent spate of serial killings due to conflict between Tutsis and Hutus as highlighted in both The Nation and Times newspapers of 5th and 6th of [sic] June 2017 confirms the fears of Karonga people that genocide tendencies of these two tribes have [been] transferred to Malawi. The security in Karonga will be at the mercy of refugees,” the petition reads in part.

The petitioning residents also said, due to increased cases of natural disasters in Karonga, Katili is the only upland area where internally displaced populations can be relocated to and land must be distributed to them immediately to this effect.

Chairperson of the Defence Committee of Parliament Olipa Muyaba received the petition on behalf of the Speaker of Parliament Richard Msowoya.

Established in 1994 in response to a wave of displaced people fleeing genocide, violence and wars in Burundi, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Dzaleka Refugee camp has an estimated population of 27,000 people.

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