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UNHCR disqualifies new refugee camp site

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United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has disqualified a proposed new camp site for refugees at Katili in Karonga, saying the present conditions would make it hard for refugees to live.

UNHCR Senior Settlement Planner Schellenberg Werner told Parliament’s International Relations Committee yesterday that water can hardly be found at the place and that the land is infertile for agriculture among other reasons.

“We have asked professionals to do a research to find out how much water is there. These are fragile conditions. People get water collected from previous rainfall in a cave,” he said.

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He said these conditions will have a negative impact on refugees if they are moved from Dzaleka in Dowa.

Werner told the committee members that UNHCR wants to change the model of refugee sites from camps to settlements in order to allow refugees to engage in agricultural activities among others.

Therefore, Werner said Katili could not be an ideal site for a refugee settlement.

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Ironically, in a separate interview yesterday, Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs and Internal Security Sam Madula said the project is still on.

Madula said the ministry has engaged experts who are on the ground carrying out the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) to ascertain viability of the site.

He said relocation experts have also been invited and will in a month’s time be ready with final results.

“We are continuing with the plan and we told Parliament that we want to involve settlement experts who are already in the country to do all the necessary studies. We want to determine suitability of the site, for instance, water availability,” Madula explained.

Madula’s sentiments come amid mixed reactions from various stakeholders in Karonga after it was reported that government has backtracked on its earlier plan of moving the 30,000 asylum seekers at Dzaleka to the disputed Katili.

“Anyone can say and report in the manner that they understood our presentation before the committee at Parliament, but in as far as government is concerned, Katili [refugee camp] is a reality,” he said.

In response, Chairperson of the Karonga-Chitipa Heritage Group Alfred Mwambila said they are dismayed at government’s contradictions but stressed that they are not surprised.

“We are dealing with politicians and we were very careful not to be carried away with what we heard that they have rescinded the decision, we believe it was some kind of entrapment for us. Nonetheless, we have not changed our stance one bit,” he explained.

Adding: “We never took them serious because as a ministry or government, they never responded to our petition. All we are waiting for is Parliament to deliberate on the petition we presented because we raised a number of issues.”

Since government hatched the idea, there has been opposition from the heritage group, youth activist Steven Simsokwe and legislature for Karonga Central Constituency Frank Mwenifumbo.

They argue Karonga is running short of land due to overpopulation and being a disaster-prone area, the district cannot afford to accommodate such huge number of people who they say would also be a security threat to the locals.

But government has support of Paramount Chief Kyungu who allocated the ministry over 90 hectares for establishment of the camp.

The decision to move the camp was reached at for security reasons, as the UNHCR statues stipulate that a refugee camp should not be closer to the capital city.

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