The government is revealing plans of continuing to keep Rwandan refugees who were affected by a cessation clause earlier this year.
The 157 Rwandan refugees upon the moment the cessation clause was invoked on them were no longer of concern according to the Malawi Refugees Act of 1989.
In her recent address at Dzaleka refugee camp, minister of home affairs and internal security, Cecilia Chazama indicated that the concerned refugees are still being kept for the virtue of them being human beings.
“I have been receiving questions on whether or not the refugees will be sent out of Malawi and the answer is that they are staying,” emphasized Chazama.
She further told the gathering on Thursday that her government has decided to go on with the move because the 157 refugees also have human rights and must be taken care of as they continue staying in the country.
The development therefore implies that the Rwandan refugees will remain in the camp until they voluntarily want to be repatriated.
The ministry of home affairs and internal security is currently intending to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on a Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF) to assist on refugee affairs in Malawi.
Zambia has already signed the MOU and the refugee agency UNHCR is excited with the news that Malawi is going the same direction.
“I think the government has a prerogative to take a decision on that and it is taking a very positive outlook on the basis that they are looking at it on a human rights perspective, which the UNHCR is excited with,” commented UNHCR Country Representative Monique Ekoko.
The UNHCR also indicates that it have never seized to assist refugees even after the cessation clause was invoked.
Its view is that the cessation clause was not only to repatriate refugees but offer them other alternative means of staying in Malawi.
The 157 refugees from Rwanda were affected by the cessation clause as their reasons for staying in Malawi as refugees and asylum seekers are no longer valid.
They are those who fled Rwanda before 1998.
It is however expected that measures will be put in place to have refugees repatriated voluntarily from the Dzaleka refugee camp that is currently hosting over 300,000 refugees and asylum seekers.
In the same vein, it is also expected that the Malawi Refugees Act of 1989 will be updated to better tackle matters concerning refugees in Malawi.
Over 150 Rwandan refugees in Malawi have from the start of this year seized having a refugee status following a cessation clause that was invoked on those who fled Rwanda before December 1998.
The clause is also in effect in other African countries including Uganda, Zambia and Democratic Republic of Congo as Malawi effected its own on December 31, 2017.
Senior Settlement Planner for United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) representation in Malawi, Werner Schellenberg, had earlier said the plan was to make them of no concern to UNHCR by December 2017 with regards the Malawi Refugee Act of 1989.
Schellenberg narrated that one ceases to be a refugee if circumstances in connection with which he or she was a refugee cease to exist. The case as is now has seen an impact on the 157 Rwandans from Malawi’s Dzaleka Refugee Camp.
He further outlined that unless there are compelling reasons to be exempted cessation, tables may turn around.
Presently, almost all Rwandan refugees do not wish to return to Rwanda even if the 1994 genocide does not bare effect to people’s stay in the country anymore.
The representation of UNHCR in Malawi also lamented the pace of giving a refugee status to some asylum seekers through the Refugees Act by government, which was proposed to be reviewed. A migration policy, with a component of refugees was also proposed to be fast-paced in its review.
Under normal circumstances however, it is expected that the affected refugees repatriate out of free will, voluntarily.
Commissioner for refugees in the ministry of Home Affairs and Internal Security, Hudson Mankhwala has since agreed with the view that voluntary repatriation is the best solution to the matter at hand.
“By regulation, refugees, even those that have seized status must be asked for their consent but still we need to promote the go and see, come and tell program. These solutions have worked in other countries before because we can well establish if it is possible to have a smooth repatriation of the refugees,” said Mankhwala.
For the affected 157 Rwandans, it is expected that they obtain a Rwandan passport if they want to continue staying in Malawi.
UNHCR Communications Officer in Malawi, Rumbani Msiska, highlighted that the Rwandans may need to apply to the Immigration Department in Malawi for a permanent resident permit.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a Rwandan refugee from Dzaleka had said in an interview that she cannot return to Rwanda for fear of being persecuted for being involved in the 1994 genocide even when she was innocent.
“Everyone who is here feels safe than being repatriated because when you go there, you stay safe for a short while then after that, you are arrested for reasons you may or may not know.” She said.
She further pointed out that the Rwandan government assumes that people who are staying out of the country for too long are those who were involved in the genocide.
The Malawi government however believes through the formulation of a national migration policy, review of the Malawi 1989 Refugee Act will be done as soon as possible to help the affected refugees regain their status or be repatriated.
According to Dr. Mankhwala, a ‘go and see, come and tell’ approach is being used to make sure the refugees are safely repatriated as on the other hand they are working hand in hand with UNHCR and the government of Rwanda to solve the matter.
Since President Peter Mutharika assigned officials from the ministry of home affairs and internal security to relocate the Dzaleka Camp in Dowa district to Katili in Karonga, there has been little progress on the ground.
This is said to be mainly due to resistance by residents in the northern region district.
Senior traditional leaders from Mlare and Ngerenge, under the royal family of Paramount Chief Kyungu seem to have reversed their decision on the project government is preparing to implement in their district.
Accompanied by special advisor for Paramount Chief Kyungu, Mpeta Mwakasungula and over 30 village headmen conducted a press conference recently, to find out why government why government chose Karonga as the district of relocation for the refugees.
"We would like the ministry of home affairs to make it clear on why Capital Hill should implement the project in Karonga, out of 27 other districts?” Mwakasungula asked.
According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), almost 27,000 refugees are expected to move from Dzaleka to Katili.
This is expected to be after the construction of such as schools, potable water points and a road from Karonga boma to Katili.
According to the UNHCR Malawi is the only country in Southern Africa that is currently hosting refugees near the capital city, and government would like to address the problem in order to ensure that the refugees are not a posing threat to the security of the country.
Poets from across the country will have today been entertaining people at Dzaleka refugee camp in Dowa.