One of the many cases where refugees are answering to homicide charges has commenced at the Lilongwe Senior Resident Magistrate Court.
The case, in which two Burundian refugees Emmanuel Sekanao and Dezire Bintuari are answering to attempted grievous harm and wounding charges for allegedly shooting a businessperson Vincent Niyongira in Salima on July 10 last year.
Niyongira is a naturalized Malawian of Rwandan origin.
The two are being charged together with a Malawian, 27 year old Davie Paseli of Ta Kadewere in Chiradzulu district.
Lilongwe Senior Resident Magistrate Violet Chipawo heard that the case was first before the high court because it was filed with an attempted murder charge.
However, Niyongira’s lawyer Lugano Mwabutwa applied to the office of Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) to prosecute the case and change the charges from attempted murder so that it should be heard at the lower court for speedy trial, an application which the office granted.
The other issue which was raised in court was on if the bail which the high court granted to the suspects should stand.
In his ruling for bail application Judge Chifundo Kachale observed that initially there was a real threat to public order if the suspects were granted.
But the State did not object to a fresh bail application after a 30-day period of detention that the court sanctioned.
The bail conditions include a K100 000, two sureties, each surety to further pay K50 000 cash each and surrendering of travel documents.
Magistrate Chipawo adjourned the case to July 12 for both bail ruling and commencement of trial.
The prosecution indicated that they have nine witnesses in total.
According to court records, the victim survived as the bullet only pierced through his left upper arm.
He was rushed to Salima District Hospital where he was treated.
According to media reports, some refugees who live outside their designated camps, are committing serious crimes such as homicide.
Senior State Advocate Pilirani Masanjala, who is also Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs spokesperson told local press that at least 20 refugees are answering homicide-related cases committed outside their designated areas.
He says the figure could be higher taking into account crimes being prosecuted by the police. Statistics show that in 2012, the country had recorded at least 279 murder cases down from 900 in 2001.
Masanjala said: “Most of the time, you find that two or three refugees have committed a crime together with Malawians. Our records show that there are at least 15 to 20 refugees answering homicide related charges.”
A convention relating to the status of refugees, which Malawi adopted in 1951, in respect of article 26 reads: “The Government of the Republic of Malawi reserves its right to designate the place or places of residence of the refugees and to restrict their movements whenever considerations of national security or public order so require”
The officers also disclosed that one of the suspects is a habitual offender and was arrested on a number of occasions by law enforcers in Nambuma area in Lilongwe where he claims his parents reside.
It is also not clear how the suspects acquired the gun which they used in the alleged shooting, and both the police and officers from the DPP are keeping a tight lid on the matter.
But human rights defenders have faulted the authorities for their laxity and failure to enforce existing laws to keep refugees in designated camps.
Executive director of Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) executive director Timothy Mtambo said: “As refugees they are not free to do whatever they want. These people need to respect the laws of this country and abide by them. There is too much laxity by State authorities.”
Parliament is also calling upon the Executive to pull up its socks by ensuring that citizens in the country are protected from any external forces.
Chairperson for parliamentary committee on International Relations Alex Major pushed the blame on the executive for dragging its feet to act.
“Much as Malawi is a signatory to a number of treaties and protocols, the leadership must always strive to prioritise what is best for the country and its citizens. The involvement of refugees in violent crimes in the country should be a wake-up call to the authorities that something is not right.”
Private practice lawyer Michael Goba Chipeta observed that immigration laws and the Refugee Act are clear on what is expected of foreign nationals residing in the country as refugees or asylum seekers.
Dzaleka Camp built to accommodate 9 000 people is now home to 28 000 refugees mostly from Rwanda, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :