Blantyre, Malawi, (Raphael Tenthani – Newstimes Africa) – Malawi President Joyce Banda has said the southern African country should re-consider the future of refugees and asylum seekers because they are monopolising businesses. “It’s high time we discussed the future of the Dzaleka Refugee Camp,” she told a police passing out parade in the eastern city of Zomba Friday. “Maybe we should just close it and let us find something to do with that place.”
She added: “We, Malawians, are also interested in the businesses these people are running.” Dzaleka Refugee Camp in the central district of Dowa is a United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)-Malawi government-run refugee agency. It currently hosts about 14, 500 refugees and asylum seekers mainly from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and Rwanda and the Horn of African countries of Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia.
President Banda said some of the refugees and asylum seekers are not genuine. She accused some of them of involvement in violent crimes. “How can you continue being a refugee when war in your country ended some ten years ago?” she said. “In some countries they have put a deadline on when refugees should leave. We must do the same.”
Owing to its porous borders Malawi is considered an easy transit route for economic refugees from the Horn of Africa who seek a greener pastures in South Africa. Every week over 500 refugees are intercepted as they try to sneak into the country. They mainly connive with corrupt police officers and chiefs from Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi and Mozambique to aide their entry into South Africa.
But the migration is not without incidents. In July nearly 50 Ethiopians drowned in Lake Malawi as they tried to enter Malawi illegally from Tanzania. A further 42 Malawi-bound Ethiopians suffocated to death in a truck in Tanzania in June.
Tensions are always high between the refugees and locals surrounding the refugee camp. The locals accuse the refugees of monopolising business. The refugees are given a monthly stipend which some industrious ones use to run business. Some have even opened thriving business in cities, especially the capital, Lilongwe.
Things went to a head in May when angry residents in Dowa attacked Burundians and demolished their shops. Police were deployed to the area to prevent an escalation of the xenophobic attacks. Analysts say the remarks by President Banda against the refugees may increase the tension and spur further xenophobic attacks. A senior UNHCR official, speaking on condition of anonymity, described the remarks as unfortunate. “She doesn’t know what she is talking about, Malawi is signatory to United Nations conventions on refugees and cannot unilaterally chase refugees and asylum seekers,” he said.
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