Migrants could be managed better in Malawi

Migration is a natural phenomenon and no one can stop it. Mankind is known to migrate from one country to another from time immemorial. Malawi has seen an influx foreign nationals over the past decade. They have come for various reasons.

Refugees at the overcrowded Dzaleka camp

Some are asylum seekers, running away from war ravaged countries like DRC and South Sudan. Others are investors who are expanding their markets to make more profits while others are economic migrants, looking for greener pastures. Others are criminals running away from prosecution in their own countries. Whatever reasons motivate people to leave their countries, managing them is important.

Government should ensure that foreign nationals whether refugees or those who do business are properly documented and managed. Some foreign nationals come to Malawi as refugees when there is no civil strife in their countries. Rwanda and Mozambique are a good example.

Many Rwandese are at Dzaleka Refugee camp. But the civil war in Rwanda ended a decade ago. Why should they seek asylum? The government should have discussed with their Rwandese counterparts how their nationals should be voluntarily repatriated. Those who want to stay in Malawi should apply for permits after fulfilling all the legal requirements.

Refugee camps have been opened in Mwanza and Nsanje to accommodate Mozambicans. But there is no war in Mozambique. Yes, once in a while, there are skirmishes between the opposition Renamo and government forces, and this warrants people crossing into Malawi for protection.

Under international law, Malawi has an obligation to provide shelter to such people. But this does not justify opening refuging camps for a prolonged period. As soon the situation returns to normal, the refugees should return to their country. The Mozambicans living in Mwanza and Nsanje should have gone back home a long time ago. This is where the two governments should have discussed the issue at bilateral level. It should also be the responsibility of the Mozambican government to provide a place of safety and provide security within Mozambique. Refugee camps within Mozambique should have been opened to cater for displaced nationals.

Sometimes it is sad to see our government being pressurised by international bodies like the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to toe the line that undermines our sovereign state. Malawi should be managing migrants including refugees in the interest of Malawians and not to be bulldozed by external forces.

We also have fugitive foreign nationals. These are run away from criminal prosecution in their countries. A case in point is Vincent Murekezi who is wanted in Rwanda for his alleged role in the 1994 genocide, and now fighting an extradition order. Because of high corruption in the Immigration Department, he fraudulently obtained a Malawian passport and Malawian citizenship. Even when there is clear evidence that he lied about his details to get a Malawian passport, government has grown cold feet to cancel his passport and citizenship. Is this not a trace of state capture?

The bulk of the people who come to Malawi are economic migrants, these include investors. They come to Malawi in search of a better life and new market for their services and products. Because of high corruption in government and among politicians, they end up getting our passport or are allowed to do business without proper documentation or stay in the country.

For example, “an Asian businessman Kassam Nurmahomed was arrested a few months ago for contravening the Citizenship Act after he was found in possession of a British and Malawian passport when he was about to leave the country for South Africa.” Typical of a banana republic, government officials grew cold feet to cancel his Malawian passport. A person who has allegiance to a foreign government does not deserve to have a Malawian passport. The same goes for people who are issued with business resident permits.

They are investors who come to Malawi to make money. Why should they acquire a Malawian passport? Some of them even use our passport for criminal activities such as peddling in drugs or illicit externalisation of foreign exchange. In many countries, it is extremely difficult for a foreigner to get a passport, let alone open a bank account, because of stringent conditions. When will Malawi jack up?

It is surprising that foreign nationals such as Burundians, Nigerians, Tanzanians, Rwandese, and Somalians littered across the country including rural areas doing business. Do these traders have proper documents to stay in Malawi? Have they duly registered their businesses? Some of them have bought land from Malawians. What does the law say on foreign land ownership? The point is that government need to be very careful the way they handle immigrants. One day Malawians will wake up to discover that a lot of land is in the hands of foreigners.

All foreign nationals who come to stay with us should be properly documented and that they should follow proper procedures to do business. Under no circumstances should they acquire our passports or IDs. It is relieving to hear that a few patriot and vigilant Malawians have blocked foreign nationals from acquiring an ID.

However, it is sad and unfortunate that corrupt immigration officials are still helping foreign nationals acquire Malawians passports. In some cases, politicians are involved in the passport scam. For example, former Minister of Home Affairs Uladi Mussa and two other senior immigration officials are in court for taking bribes from foreigners in exchange for passports. Although Mussa has labelled his case as politically-motivated, let him defend himself in court. If he is innocent, he will be set free. If he is guilty, he should be sent to jail! This will send a good message to other ministers that if they are involved in corruption they will be dragged to court once they will leave office.

As Malawians will now acquire a national identity document, it will be easy to identify nationals from foreigners. However, it is still easy to acquire a passport because of corrupt immigration officials. If one wants to witness how corruption is conducted, just visit Mzuzu Immigration Office. Immigration officials are all over the place including corridors and outside office assisting “clients”. Some of them receive passport forms from individuals outside their offices and walk them to their offices. Some of them even phone “clients” to see them in person. Others have agents (“dobadoba” who loiter outside the offices) who find clients for them. The situation is just chaotic!

The DPP government is failing Malawians in curbing corruption. There is reason to doubt that many passports issued to foreigners are issued corruptly. Imagine 250 passports going missing and government kept a tight lid on the issue until MP Harry Mkandawire raised it in parliament. Minister of Home Affairs Grace Chiumia need to raise her performance bar. Otherwise she is complicit in failing Malawians.

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