Refugees endure inhumane living conditions at Dzaleka Refugee Camp

Conditions of living have reached crisis levels at Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Dowa where over 53, 500 have been forced to scramble for almost everything at a camp originally established to host between up to 12, 000 refugees and asylum seekers.

The unprecedented rise in the number of people occupying the camp has had a negative impact on shelter conditions, and access to adequate sanitation and hygiene, education and livelihood opportunities.

“On a daily basis, we see life becoming unbearable in the camp. Just imagine, we wake up as early as 2am to draw water from a borehole only to get your turn on the line at 7am,” said Aisha Ndayishimiye in an interview.

Ndayishimiye–Life is unbearable in the camp

In its September 2022 Malawi Funding Update, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says the congestion has also affected the wellbeing of camp residents and contributed to general protection risks, affecting the most vulnerable groups like women and children.

Sadly, adds UNHCR, funding continues to be a challenge and the refugee response in Malawi remains under-resourced.

“Dependence on food assistance amongst refugees and asylum seekers results from limited access to arable land and legal restrictions that includes freedom of movement and right to employment. As such, refugees and asylum-seekers are dependent on food and other assistance provided by UNHCR, WFP and the government,” reads the executive summary of the update.

Women refugees draw water from a borehole at Dzaleka Refugee Camp

The agency states that due to shortfall in funding, WFP has reduced quantity of food support to the refugees to 75 percent, and this has compromised the food and nutrition security of the population, leading to rise in negative coping mechanisms that includes increase in crime at the camp.

The update further discloses that the outbreak of Covid-19 has contributed to increase in violence against women, gender based violence (GBV) remains a problem despite prevention and response services provided by the Government and advocacy within civil society.

“Transactional and survival sex work is prevalent due to the high levels of poverty and limited self-reliance opportunities. Although awareness among the refugee community about GBV issues has significantly improved, some leaders and traditional religious figures remain resistant. As a result, there is still strong social pressure that dissuades reporting of cases and punishment of perpetrators,” says the update.

Amidst the crisis, the Ministry of Homeland Security has set November 30, 2022 and February 1, 2023 for refugees and asylum seekers in rural and urban areas, respectively, to relocate to Dzaleka Refugee camp.

The government’s notice comes following a High Court Judge Mandala Mambulasa decision on August 12, 2022, that vacated an injunction on the application of Abdul Nahimana on his own behalf and refugees and asylum seekers and Samuel Mkumbira versus Minister of Homeland Security in judicial review case number 18 of 2021.

The injunction restrained the government from relocating refugees and asylum seekers back to the camp.

Principal Secretary for Homeland Security ministry Oliver Kumbambe said all refugees and asylum seekers in rural areas should relocate to Dzaleka Refugee camp by November 30, 2022 and those in urban areas to do so too by February 1, 2023.

“It must be mentioned that in establishing the Dzaleka Refugee Camp with assistance from UNHCR, government made appropriate provision for a safe stay for all refugees and asylum seekers,” Kumbambe said.

He added that the said provision meets the required international standards with regard to refugees and asylum seekers. The said standards, he said, include Katubzya primary and secondary schools, the Dzaleka health centre under the Ministry of Health and Dzaleka market under the Ministry of Local Government.

“Kindly note that once back in the camp, everyone is allowed to leave the camp with permission which requires one to return before the expiration of the specified period given,” Kumbambe said in the statement.

Kumbambe also warned the public against getting involved in the relocation exercise, saying it is only the Malawi Police Service and Department of Immigration and Citizenship Services and the refugees and asylum seekers that will be involved.

“If any person or group of persons is found meddling in this or harassing the refugees and asylum seekers in any way, the government will ensure that such individuals are met with the full arm of the law,” Kumbambe warned.

The news has sent chilling fear among refugees and asylum seekers currently residing at the camp.

Ndayishimiye predicts that adding more refugees and asylum seekers to the camp will only worsen their living conditions.

“I can’t imagine how life will be when more refugees and asylum seekers join us. It will be hell on earth,” she said.

Private practice lawyer Luciano Mickeus said it is against this background that his clients, Abdul Nahimana, a Burundian, and Samuel Mkumbira, from Rwanda, decided to appeal Mambulasa’s judgment.

Mickeus said the judge did not address his clients’ concern that Dzaleka Refugee Camp is inadequate to house additional refugees and asylum-seekers.

He observed that the camp’s population, healthcare, educational and livelihood capacities are already far below decent with the current capacities deemed suitable for not more than 10, 000 while currently more than 53,500 refugees and asylum-seekers reside there in inhumane conditions.

“This is why the refugees and asylum-seekers that reside outside the camp ask the court to take this into account. The court acknowledges the questionable decision of the government to differentiate rural and urban refugees and asylum-seekers while administratively there is no tangible differentiation. How will the government proceed in putting into effect the decision to relocate refugees and asylum-seekers residing in rural areas and not those in urban areas?” he asked.

Mickeus warned that there is a big risk that there would be discrimination and chaos in the proceedings; hence, there is a need for the government to first make clear how this will happen in an organized and non-discriminatory manner.

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