Rwandan refugees and asylum-seekers in Malawi say they fear being deported or losing their right to stay in the country, following steps by the government to apprehend refugees wanted in their home countries on various charges.
Malawi’s government said last week it has received a request from Rwanda to help track down 55 so-called warlords who are hiding in Malawi. Rwandan refugees say officials need to verify the allegations before acting.
The Rwandan refugees expressed their fears in a statement following the deportation Monday of a Rwandan genocide suspect, Vincent Ngendahimana Kanyoni, who was indicted in 2019.
In a statement, a refugee group called the Concerned Rwandan Refugees said Malawi should be cautious with requests from the Rwandan government. The group said Rwanda might be playing what it called “the genocide card” to target political opponents in exile.
Odette Narikundo, a representative of Rwandan refugees in Malawi, told VOA she believes Kanyoni’s deportation was based on wrong information. She said the suspect never worked as a soldier in Rwanda and never had any military training there.
Narikundo said she doubts Rwanda’s claim that so many former Rwandan generals are hiding in Malawi. She said that if the generals were hiding, they would not have been at Dzaleka refugee camp. She wondered why Malawi was acting in such a way.
Narikundo said she believes that Rwanda is using genocide-related accusations to target political opponents living abroad. She said many Rwandan refugees fear being picked up and deported without even being taken to court to defend themselves, as was the case with Kanyoni.
Now, she said, people are living in fear. Because he didn’t go to court before being deported, she called Malawi’s actions kidnapping.
Narikundo said Malawi should verify any information from Rwanda with the group known as the Government of Rwandans in Exile, based in France, before rushing to take any action.
Patrick Botha, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Homeland Security in Malawi, told VOA that Malawi is a sovereign state doing everything according to its laws.
“But we have a working relationship with different countries especially our neighbors [and] that includes Rwanda, Burundi, just as we do with Zambia, Mozambique and Tanzania,” Botha said. “In terms of security, we work hand in hand with these governments.”
Botha, however, declined to take more questions, citing the sensitivity around the issue.
“That’s all I can say on the matter,” he said. “The other issues concerning this are very sensitive, many security issues, so it’s not right for me to go into those details.”
Michael Kaiyatsa, executive director for the Center for Human Rights and Rehabilitation in Malawi, shares the concerns of the Rwandan refugees.
“Because the way the government is doing it, it means even genuine refugees stand a risk of being deported like that,” Kaiyatsa said. “They will not have an opportunity to defend themselves. You know, police or immigration [officers] cannot make that determination, they are not a court themselves.”
Last month, Malawi started revoking the citizenship of refugees and asylum-seekers whom officials say obtained their status fraudulently.
Some 400 people, mainly from Burundi and Rwanda, have had their Malawian citizenship revoked and plans are under way to deport them.