A major operation is getting under way Friday to move thousands of Mozambican asylum-seekers in Malawi away from the dangerous border area to a secure camp further inland.
The UNHCR, which is running this operation, plans to relocate some 10,000 Mozambican asylum-seekers to a former refugee camp in southeast Malawi, about 320 kilometers away from the volatile border area.
The camp, which is being reopened for this purpose, previously housed many of the more than 1 million refugees who fled Mozambique’s long-running civil war between 1977 and 1992.
Mozambicans have been fleeing to Malawi since December of last year because of renewed, sporadic fighting between the opposition RENAMO and government forces, peaking at more than 250 people a day in early March.
UNHCR spokesman William Spindler tells VOA the situation appears to be stabilizing now, but the border area remains unsafe.
“We need to see how it evolves. In the meantime, we have to move people away from an area where they could be potentially at risk. Also, it would be easier for us to provide assistance to them further inland. Some of these areas are very remote. Given the rainy season, the roads are basically impassable. And, that is another reason why we are moving them," said Spindler.
A first group of 81 Mozambicans left Nsanje district on two buses early Friday morning. The U.N. refugee agency says they will stay at a transit center for up to two days on arrival. After being transferred to the camp at Luwani, it says they will be provided with a plot of land, food, shelter materials and household items.
It says the majority of the Mozambican asylum-seekers lives in overcrowded conditions in the village of Kapise, an area about 100 kilometers south of the capital, Lilongwe. It says relocations from Kapise and other villages along the border to Luwani will soon begin.
The UNHCR says the relocation process will be conducted in a phased manner and should be completed in six to eight weeks.