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Malawi Moves 10,000 Mozambique Asylum Seekers to Camp

  • Lameck Masina

Mozambican refugees board a bus from Nsanje reception center to Luwani refuguees camp in Neno district, south of Malawi. (L. Masina/VOA)

Mozambican refugees board a bus from Nsanje reception center to Luwani refuguees camp in Neno district, south of Malawi. (L. Masina/VOA)

Malawi has started moving 10,000 Mozambique asylum seekers back from the border to the newly reopened Luwani camp in southeastern Malawi.

Nearly 12,000 Mozambicans seeking asylum have crossed the border into Malawi since December.

There was excitement as the first buses arrived to move them to newly reopened Luwani camp.

The buses traveled 320 kilometers to the camp.

Upon arrival, the U.N. refugee agency gave the refugees food and utensils and assigned each family a plot. Tents were already set up.

Before its official closure in 2007, the Luwani camp hosted more than 300,000 Mozambican refugees who had fled civil war between 1977 and 1992.

The people being relocated here are from Zambezia province, one of five opposition strongholds where there has been sporadic fighting since the disputed 2014 elections.

Increased tensions late last year pushed thousands of civilians to flee.

Pensulo Loponi said pro-government FRELIMO fighters were torching houses and killing people they accuse of harboring opposition RENAMO fighters.

He said he was with two friends coming from the market when FRELIMO soldiers accused them of being RENAMO and pointed guns at their heads. He said he showed his voting certificate as identification and was spared, but his two friends had nothing to show and were shot dead.

The government said RENAMO fighters are attacking civilians to turn them against the government.

Edess Maison - in striped blouse - says she has left goats, pigs and maize fields behind and disputes her government's assertions that they are running away from hunger. (L. Masina/VOA)

Edess Maison - in striped blouse - says she has left goats, pigs and maize fields behind and disputes her government's assertions that they are running away from hunger. (L. Masina/VOA)

As the asylum seekers were being moved Saturday, Mozambique state media reported President Filipe Nyusi called on RENAMO fighters to lay down their weapons and come to dialogue.

The reopening of Luwani camp has been controversial for some. The governor of one affected district in Mozambique told state radio there in March that there is no conflict. He said people were fleeing drought and food shortages.

Arriving at Luwani camp, 83-year-old Edess Maison said that is not true. She said her family had to abandon their pigs, goats and maize fields.

She added that because there is no peace in their country they cannot return home. She said that as she spoke, fighting continued in their area. Maison also said that she and her family are thanking the Malawi government for taking them to this camp.

The U.N. refugee agency said the relocation exercise continues all week. A UNHCR field officer told VOA that asylum seekers, as well as the host community, will have access to health facilities and a school there.

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