Refugees in Malawi in danger of xenophobic violence after government’s directive

Following the government’s 14-day ultimatum, refugees and other immigrants are bracing themselves for looting and xenophobic violence.

Lilongwe, MALAWI (April 21, 2021) – Nearly 50,000 refugees are being ordered to leave cities and towns they have been living and working in to be relocated in the refugee camp of Dzaleka, about 40 km from the capital, Lilongwe. This is a camp that has a capacity of 10,000. The refugees have been given an ultimatum of 14 days, ending on the 28th of April 2021, to sell all their assets, permanently take school-going children from class on a moment they are preparing to pass exams, leave their small-scale businesses or employment and relocate in the already severely overcrowded refugee camp. And this in times that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the Dzaleka refugee camp more than most places.

The majority of the 50,000 refugees had fled the Great Lakes Region (RD Congo, Burundi and Rwanda) and arrived in Malawi from the mid-90’s to this day. Malawi has been very welcoming and together with the UNHCR there was a minimum of support. But to have a decent life, many refugees requested for the right to leave the camp so that they could enterprise in small-scale business, go to school or find employment for a better chance to a decent life and especially for the future of their children. Since 2006 the UNHCR and the Malawian government have been giving willing refugees tokens that give them the right to leave camp so that they can be self-reliant in any legal way while they forsake their food and other livelihood advantages given to them by the UNHCR in the camp but while keeping the refugee protection as stipulated by the Geneva Convention. Many refugees are married to Malawian partners. A lot of children have been born here and are currently continuing their studies or are employed all over Malawi.

Given these elements, it is thus more astonishing that the government of Malawi has taken such a decision, by force if need be, to relocate these refugees and asylum-seekers, eventually their Malawian partners and children in an already overcrowded refugee camp without proper healthcare and education infrastructures. When in camp, these refugees will have to survive off not much more than the equivalent of 7 USD per month per family member.

Other immigrants who are nor refugees nor asylum-seekers, like foreign investors or even former refugees that have obtained the Malawian citizenship, also fear consequences such as xenophobic violence and looting that may follow the deadline of the 28th of April 2021. Terrible memories of the xenophobic violence and looting that immigrants in South Africa endured in 2019 quickly come in mind.

“Government should adhere to principles of human rights as they are implementing their action. It is important to comply with international refugees’ law. Refugees are one of the most vulnerable groups as such government should make sure that they execute the actions within the laws of this country and international refugee law,” commented the Malawian Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC). 

When the representatives of the refugees have recently appeared to the UNHCR to mediate in this situation, the UNHCR has abstained from any comment nor any other visible action.

The refugees, asylum-seekers and other immigrants call on the international community to come to our aid while we face this ultimatum against which we see no other solution than to plead for the empathy and sympathy of the international community.

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If you would like more information about this topic, please call Elie Umukunzi at +265 994 952 522 or e-mail at [email protected] and see also https://www.nyasatimes.com/hrdc-warns-malawi-govt-on-relocation-of-refugees-to-avoid-sparking-xenophobia/ and in attachment you will find copies of letters to the Malawian government by refugees and immigrant and a news article in a Malawian newspaper about the current situation.

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