MALAWI has incurred the wrath of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) after the recent arrest and detention of 377 refugees.
Those arrested, including 117 children, have been forcibly relocated to
the overcrowded Dzaleka refugee camp, whose holding capacity is over
four times the requirements.
The camp, as originally established to accommodate up to 12 000
refugees, was, as of May 22, home to more than 50 600 refugees mainly
from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Burundi and Rwanda, which
represents the total refugee population in Malawi.
The arrests and closure of all shops and businesses owned by refugees
and asylum-seekers in a suburb of Lilongwe, Malawi’s capital, follows a
directive issued by the government on March 27 to enforce its encampment
The directive orders all refugees and asylum-seekers living in urban and
rural areas to return voluntarily to the camp by April 15 or face enforced relocation.
UNHCR teams recounted how quickly some refugees had to flee their homes,
leaving behind everything to escape arrest. Some children were separated from their families during the chaos.
Refugees and asylum-seekers were initially held in Maula Central Prison
before being transferred in government vehicles to Dzaleka. UNHCR said it denounced the arrests, detention and forced relocation.
“We strongly reiterate our call to the authorities to rescind their relocation decision as the existing structures in Dzaleka refugee camp are already stretched to the limit and cannot accommodate more refugees in a dignified manner,” said Valentin Tapsoba, director of UNHCR’s regional bureau for Southern Africa.
The envoy warned this would result in immense human suffering and create
a new dependency on humanitarian assistance. UNHCR has pleaded that any returns to Dzaleka be done in accordance with human rights principles and not result in the detention of children.
To date, 505 individuals have returned to the camp since the government
issued the order in 2021. Dzaleka already faces challenges as health services, water, shelter and sanitation facilities are inadequate to serve the population.
Malawi has nonetheless committed to the Comprehensive Refugee Response
Framework and pledged at the Global Refugee Forum in December 2019 to
incorporate refugee matters into its national development agenda, reform
the legal and policy framework, cover registration and documentation of
refugees, enhance refugee status determination and support self-reliance
through increased livelihood activities.
As of May 23, UNHCR had only received 9 percent of the US$27,2 million
required to adequately support refugees and asylum-seekers in Malawi
– CAJ News