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Malawi Police Recover Ammunition in Containers Confiscated From Refugees

FILE - Refugees of various nationalities walk through Dzaleka refugee camp, Dowa district, in Malawi's Central region, June 20, 2018.

Police in Malawi have recovered ammunition and cash in steel containers searched during the forced relocation of refugees illegally staying outside a refugee camp.

Malawi police confiscated the large containers from refugees and asylum-seekers on suspicion they contained rifles, ammunition, and counterfeiting machines for criminal activities.

The Malawi government started the forced relocation of refugees to the country's only refugee camp, Dzaleka, in May of this year.

Authorities said the relocation was in line with the government's policy that prohibits refugees from staying outside the camp. The government also said by staying outside a designated camp, the refugees were posing a threat to national security.

Peter Kalaya, national spokesperson for the Malawi Police Service, told VOA on Tuesday that police have forcibly opened and searched 24 containers during the exercise, which started three weeks ago.

"We have actually just found five ammunition [rounds] for AK47 [rifles] with which our police dogs from K9 Unit sniffed out, and money amounting to about MK1.4 million from one of the containers," he said.

The cash discovered is equivalent to about $1,400.

Police have arrested four people, Kalaya said, including a Malawian national who said he was sent to witness the opening of the container with ammunition by its owner, who was not present when police opened and searched it.

"We arrested three in our first and second weeks of searching the containers, for operating businesses without licenses in Malawi because they did not have appropriate documentation allowing them to be doing business in Malawi," Kalaya said.

He added that the recovery of ammunition justifies the exercise that human rights campaigners have long condemned.

"Because if we have found live ammunition it means it was used in some rifles, for example AK47s," Kalaya said. "It means we have AK47s somewhere. These five ammunitions were found in a box that officially housed ammunition for revolvers. It means there are other revolvers somewhere."

Michael Kaiyatsa, executive director of the Center for Human Rights and Rehabilitation in Malawi, said the way the exercise is being handled is concerning. Some of the refugees were using the large containers to hold perishable items for their businesses.

"Our concern is that some refugees complained that their farm produce was destroyed and got rotten," he said. "The government needs to ensure that refugees' rights to own property should be respected."

Kalaya said police invited the owners of the containers to witness the opening exercises, but many are not showing up. He added that perishable goods from containers that are not claimed by the owners are being auctioned as ordered by the court.

A Burundian refugee who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals said many owners of the containers shun the exercise for fear of arrest because they do not have sufficient documentation of their businesses.