BLANTYRE, MALAWI— Malawian President Joyce Banda says her country is considering closing down its main refugee camp situated in the central district of Dowa. The president says doing so would be the best option for addressing an influx of illegal immigrants in the southern African country, most of whom come from war-torn countries.
Government statistics show that Malawi currently hosts an estimated 14,000 refugees, who are mainly from Burundi, Rwanda, Somalia, Eritrea, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia.
Most of them are being kept at the Dzaleka Refugee Camp, which is located 45 kilometers from the capital, Lilongwe. The camp, however, has been an issue for Malawian small business operators as the refugees are also running businesses which compete against those operated by locals. Such businesses include tea rooms, hair dressing salons and barber shops. Efforts to stop refugees from operating business have been ignored.
Time to decide
Speaking Friday during a parade for police officers in Malawi’s southern city of Zomba, President Banda asked the country’s security officials to decide on the fate of the camp's refugees.
“I think it’s now high time the police, immigration, defense officials and representatives from the office of president and cabinet should convene a conference where you will discuss the future of the refugee camp. Maybe it’s time to just close down Dzaleka because how someone could remain in the refugee camp when war in your country ended some 10 years ago. What are you doing?”
Banda also said it is time Malawi learns how other countries deal with refugee issues.
“I have heard that our neighboring countries have put a deadline on when refugees from countries where war has ended should leave. We must also do the same."
Banda added that the influx of illegal immigrants has increased criminal activity in the country.
The inspector general of Malawi Police, Loti Dzonzi, said authorities would commit themselves to eradicating the problems of illegal entry into the country.
The Dzaleka Refugee Camp is supervised by the Malawi government and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.