UNHCR rebuffs Malawi on new refugee camp site in Karonga

United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has rebuffed Malawi Government’s proposal to establish a new camp site for refugees at Katili in Karonga saying that the present conditions would make it hard for refugees to live.

Refugees at the overcrowded Dzaleka camp

However, Malawi Government has insisted that it will go ahead with its plans to relocate the refugee camping site from Dzaleka in Dowa to the northern region border district which is the main entry zone for most of the refugees.

UNHCR Senior Settlement Planner Schellenberg Werner told Parliament’s International Relations Committee that water can hardly be found at the place and that the land is infertile for agriculture among other reasons.

“We have asked professionals to do a research to find out how much water is there. These are fragile conditions. People get water collected from previous rainfall in a cave,” Werner told the committee.

He explained that these conditions will have a negative impact on refugees if they are moved from Dzaleka in Dowa. Werner told the committee members that UNHCR wants to change the model of refugee sites from camps to settlements in order to allow refugees to engage in agricultural activities among others.

Therefore, he said Katili could not be an ideal site for a refugee settlement.

However, in an interview, Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs and Internal Security Sam Madula said the project is still on.

Madula said the ministry has engaged experts who are on the ground carrying out an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) to ascertain viability of the site. He said relocation experts have also been invited and will be ready with final results in a month’s time.

“We are continuing with the plan and we told Parliament that we want to involve settlement experts who are already in the country to do all the necessary studies. We want to determine suitability of the site, for instance, water availability,” he said.

He added: “Anyone can say and report in the manner that they understood our presentation before the committee at Parliament, but in as far as government is concerned, Katili refugee camp is a reality.”

Stakeholders in Karonga have also been expressing different views on the project with some also raising concerns over reports that government has backtracked on its earlier plan of moving the 30,000 asylum seekers at Dzaleka to the disputed Katili.

Commenting on the insistence from Malawi Government that it will go ahead with the plans despite the earlier reports of it backtracking on the same, Chairperson of the Karonga-Chitipa Heritage Group, which has been opposing the plans, Alfred Mwambila said they are dismayed at government’s contradictions but stressed that they are not surprised.

“We are dealing with politicians and we were very careful not to be carried away with what we heard that they have rescinded the decision, we believe it was some kind of entrapment for us. Nonetheless, we have not changed our stance one bit,” he explained.

He added: “We never took them serious because as a ministry or government, they never responded to our petition. All we are waiting for is Parliament to deliberate on the petition we presented because we raised a number of issues.”

Among those who have been opposing the plans also include youth activist Steven Simsokwe and legislature for Karonga Central Constituency Frank Mwenifumbo. They argue that Karonga is running short of land due to overpopulation and being a disaster-prone area, the district cannot afford to accommodate such huge number of people who they say would also be a security threat to the locals.

Malawi Government so far has support of Paramount Chief Kyungu who allocated the ministry over 90 hectares for establishment of the camp.

Ironically, the decision to move the camp was reached at following UNHCR statutes that stipulate that a refugee camp should not be closer to the capital city as is currently the case with Dzaleka Refugee Camp which is just a few kilometers from Lilongwe, the Capital City of Malawi.

The location of Dzaleka has seen thousands of refugees infiltrating the Capital City doing different businesses, a development that has been raising concerns among the locals.

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Kunena Mosapsyatila
Guest
The Malawi govt sometimes amazes me as if some of the professionals that she employs have never gone to school at all. The UNHCR official and his team that are against the relacation of refugees to Katili are settlement planners themselves, and they know what it means to move masses of people from one place to another. We of the Geograhy and indeed planning family know that people settle where there is water(clean, readily available,etc), have access to commucation lines, where land is fertile for the growth of food, accessible to social services such schools, hospitals etc and many other… Read more »
Kaitano
Guest
Mr WERNER i think you are mad,if what am reading here is what you and your U.N.H.C.R is what you think it means now these people are not Refugees, then if that the case the plan should be sending them back to their Countries, you cant change the model of Camps into settlements just because you want them to be farming, and for your information i don’t think it is good to tell and or force us to do what you want, the best way is to take your people and your Office back to their Countries period!!! Look at… Read more »
Ineyo
Guest
Mr. Kaitano, sometimes when you do not have sufficient knowledge on a subject matter, it is better to remain silent. UNHCR only advocates for the rights and protection of refugees as per their mandate, but it is the responsibility of the host government to look after refugees as per international obligations that countries including Malawi have entered and committed to. It is the host government that invites UNHCR to come and assist on refugee matters. UNHCR only ensures that the refugees are enjoying their basic human rights as enshrined in the bill of rights which is what Mr. Werner is… Read more »
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