Chimwendo Banda goofs on refugees’ relocation

“I came to Malawi to seek refuge and protection. I just wanted to live life like a normal human being, not to be caged as if I am a vicious.”

Malawi’s Homeland Security Minister Richard Chimwendo Banda, who announced that the Malawi government would move to relocate the refugees back to a designated area at Dzaleka Camp in central district of Dowa was misled to believe that the court has ruled in government’s favour.

Malawi Homeland Security Minister, Chimwendo Banda goofs on refugees’ relocation

Chimwendo Banda made the declaration Tuesday this week after the High Court sitting in Lilongwe dismissed an application asking the court to stop the government from relocating refugees and asylum seekers to the refugee camp, saying the applicant, Elie Mukunzi, was not a refugee in Malawi and therefore did not have sufficient interest in the matter.

In a twist of events, it has transpired, however, that a parallel matter involving one Abdul Nahmana, who took the matter to the courts on his own behalf, and on the behalf of all the refugees and asylum seekers in Malawi, is ongoing and an injunction that was ordered against the government’s plan to relocate all refugees residing in Malawi and still not granted immigration status in that regard still stands and the court in Blantyre is yet to make a determination on the matter.

Lawyer representing, Abdul Nahmana and the other applicants,’ Luciano Mickman said Homeland Security minister Richard Chimwendo Banda was misled on the matter and therefore it was not right for him to announce that the government will go ahead relocating refugees and asylum seekers back to Dzaleka camp.

Said Mickman: “The fact that the matter in Lilongwe was dismissed did not mean that the government could relocate the refugees, at least until after the conclusion of the matter in Blantyre, which is the same prayer and same facts. it must also be known that the applicant in the Lilongwe case was just all by himself, while Mr. Nahnama’s application has himself and the refugees and asylum seekers in Malawi.”

This, therefore means that the Malawi Government’s decision to relocate refugees and asylum seekers back to Dzaleka Refugee Camp will have to wait a little longer as Judge Mandala Mambulasa is yet to hear an application on the same matter on June 9 in the commercial city of Malawi, Blantyre.

“The Minister was misled with the ruling. The ones who made the application here in Blantyre are the real refugees and their case has not been disposed yet,” Mickman said.

Chimwendo Banda in response to the Tuesday Lilongwe High Court determination, swiftly indicated that the government would now move to relocate the refugees back to Dzaleka Refugee Camp.

The government’s announcement that it was sending all refugees and asylum seekers to Dzaleka Refugee Camp was received with mixed reactions both locally and internationally.

The government of Malawi through the ministry of Homeland Security some months ago ordered thousands of refugees who have integrated into society to move to the country’s only refugee camp.

‘Stretched facilities’

Malawi Human Rights Commission Executive Secretary, Habiba Osman, who is also a former UN Women human rights and gender expert but also human trafficking in persons connoisseur in an interview Thursday with Nyasa Times said there is need to handle the matter with a human face and tread carefully to avoid tramping on people’s universal rights.

“This issue, I have said now and again needs to be examined thoroughly and all angles must be looked into to ensure

Osman said some of the refugees that are to be repatriated back to Dzaleka camp have lived in Malawi for years, setting up businesses and marrying Malawians, but now authorities say they pose a threat to national security by living among local people.

Nyasa Times random interviews with indicates that some refugees vow to resist the order to move to the overcrowded Dzaleka camp.

A Burundian refugee, Osman Mahamood Ndaebe said: “This is very unfair. I have lived in Malawi for over 20 years and I have establish my life here. My family is all Malawian as I have a Malawian wife and that means my children are automatic Malawians.

“I will never go back to Dzaleka when I have built my own house with my wife with our hard-earned cash and I am not going to leave everything I have worked for and my family to go back to Dzaleka. If they want to kill me, let them kill me but I am not going to that camp again. I am no threat to anyone’s security and I am just an ordinary human being working hard to feed my family,” said a seemingly irritated Ndaebe.

A Rwandan female refugee, Jean Ingabire who is a widowed mother of three, said: “I came to Malawi to seek refuge and just to live like a human being not like a caged animal. I have my own small business and I pay my taxes, so why must I be moved back to an overcrowded camp after living in this country for over 15 years.”

The deadline to move to the camp was originally 28 April, but a temporary court injunction has provided a brief respite.

The camp, about 40km (30 miles) north of the capital, Lilongwe, has a capacity for up to 14,000 refugees but now houses nearly 50,000. Hundreds more are arriving each month, most of them coming from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mozambique.

“We are not chasing them, and we just want them to be where they should be,” Homeland Security Minister Richard Chimwendo was quoted as saying to the international media.

Added the Homeland Security minister: “Those who have businesses will have to operate from Dzaleka. If they are married they must apply for permanent residence. We are not sending them back to their countries.”

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) in Malawi estimates that about 2,000 refugees are affected by the order. It said the directive was in line with the country’s encampment laws, but warned of “serious human rights implications” and urged the government to reconsider it position.

Facilities at Dzaleka camp are already stretched, the UN warns

In an email to Nyasa Times, the UNHCR said health facilities, water supplies and schools at the camp would be stretched even further by the move.

In a separate interview, Gift Trapence, vocal chairperson for the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) called on the Malawian government to safeguard the refugees’ property.

“We don’t want to see scenarios where people will take advantage to grab or ransack the refugees’ assets,” Trapence said.

The UNHCR, citing an official communication from the Homeland Security ministry – said the order was also due to “security concerns in order to protect both refugees and host communities, following the volatile situation in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado area”.

Cabo Delgado province has long experienced instability but there has been a sharp increase in militant attacks in recent months and Local al-Shabab militia in the area are believed to have links to the wider Islamic state group.

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