Malawi enforces full refugee relocation exercise despite UN protest

Lilongwe, May 25 : The Malawian government has fully enforced the relocation of refugees and asylum seekers back to the Dzaleka Refugee Camp despite protests from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). The Ministry of Homeland Security has extended the exercise to other districts in the central and northern regions of the country, said spokesperson Patrick Botha. "The government maintains its stand. We have rolled out the operation to the rest of the districts," Xinhua news agency quoted the spokesperson as saying As of Wednesday, the exercise had been rolled out to the lakeshore districts of Mangochi, Nkhotakota, Nkhata Bay, Mzuzu City, and Rumphi, said the spokesperson. Minister of Homeland Security Ken Zikhale Ng'oma said the implementation of the exercise is in line with the country's encampment policy which prohibits refugees and asylum seekers from living outside the designated camp. In a statement, the UNHCR said that it was extremely concerned about the recent arrest and detention of 377 refugees, including 117 children, on 17 May, and their subsequent forced relocation to the camp by the Malawi authorities. "The arrests and closure of all shops and businesses owned by refugees and asylum seekers in a suburb of Lilongwe, Malawi's capital, follows a directive issued by the Government on March 27 to enforce its encampment policy. "The directive orders all refugees and asylum-seekers living in urban and rural areas to return voluntarily to the camp by April 15 or face enforced relocation," it said. The camp, which was originally established to accommodate up to 12,000 refugees, is currently home to more than 50,600 refugees mainly from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi and Rwanda, according to the UNHCR. Of those, some 8,000 refugees and asylum-seekers are estimated to have been living in Malawi's rural and urban areas for extended periods of time, some of them since 2003, having arrived in the country as far back as 1994. /IANS


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