Refugees and their advocates in Malawi have expressed alarm at President Lazarus Chakwera's defense of a plan to force about 2,000 people back into a refugee camp. A court injunction has prevented their immediate relocation, but authorities have appealed the order.
Speaking with CNN on Thursday, Chakwera said the government was enforcing the law by moving to relocate refugees staying outside their designated camp.
Malawi’s encampment policy prohibits refugees from staying outside their camp. It also requires the refugees to work within the camp premises.
Under the relocation order issued in early April, the government said by staying outside the camp, the refugees threatened national security.
Chrispine Sibade, a human rights lawyer based in Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe. said forcing refugees into camps was a violation of their rights.
Sibande said the Malawi Constitution gives everyone certain economic rights, regardless of their place of origin.
“Therefore, we expect the government to protect the rights of refugees and also consider international practice whereby any decision pertaining to their fundamental rights will be protected and promoted,” Sibande said.
However, Malawi’s government said it was not backing down in its move to relocate the refugees. Minister of Homeland Security Richard Chimwendo Banda told VOA on Friday that the government was working to vacate the injunction the refugees obtained last month against relocation.
The spokesperson for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Malawi, Rumbani Msiska, said in an email response Friday that the move to relocate the refugees was concerning.
He said that while Malawi’s government might have legal justifications for the relocation, returning them to the camp would create serious problems at the country’s only refugee camp, such as school overcrowding, and a scramble for water and even health facilities.
Dzaleka refugee camp in central Malawi is a home to over 48,000 refugees and asylum-seekers from various countries, including Burundi, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia and Ethiopia.
One of the group leaders at the camp, who asked not to be named, said returnees were facing a lack of accommodation.
He said, “Some are living in the tents while others are sleeping on the ground. And the problem is that we don’t know the progress of a judicial review case.”
UNHCR’s Msiska said the returnees were being provided with temporary shelters while efforts were underway to identify empty plots for the refugees to construct their own shelters.