By Watipaso Mzungu
The Centre for Democracy and Economic Development Initiatives (CDEDI) has petitioned the Malawi Parliament, calling for an urgent review of the country’s laws governing the status of refugees and asylum seekers to ensure some of the fugitives are integrated into the society.
The human rights watchdog argues that some of the refugees and asylum seekers have proven to be critical to the social and economic development of our nation, despite their status.
Ironically, CDEDI has all along been pushing the Government of Malawi to enforce the laws that give guidance as regards the welfare of refugees and asylum seekers in the country.
CDEDI executive director Sylvester Namiwa said their earlier call for the enforcement of the laws was necessitated by government’s lack of proper monitoring of the refugees and asylum seekers, who had left their designated areas, such as Dzaleka Refugee Camp, and were indulging in various economic activities in towns and cities across the country, illegally.
“CDEDI petitioned President Dr. Lazarus Chakwera on the same matter, and +we were invited for roundtable discussions with the Minister of Homeland Security, Hon. Richard Chimwendo-Banda, as well as the minister of trade, on the same,” said Namiwa after presenting the petition to the Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament on Tuesday afternoon.
He hailed the Ministry of Homeland Security for taking such a bold decision in line with the country’s existing laws and regulations to ensure that all the refugees and asylum seekers have returned to Dzaleka Refugee Camp.
“It is our hope that this ultimatum, which has also been validated by the High Court of Malawi, is really being enforced. However, it is important to point out that the refugees and asylum seekers came to Malawi in search of peace, which they could not find in their own countries and elsewhere! Therefore, we have no one but ourselves to blame, as a country, for allowing these refugees and asylum seekers to leave their designated areas in search of shelter and economic activities outside the refugee camps, all these years,” emphasized Namiwa.
However, the CDEDI boss observed that the government’s ultimatum on the refugees and asylum seekers had unearthed a number of issues that need to be addressed.
He said since the relocation exercise started, the organization has received numerous cases, especially from Malawian who got married to some of the refugees and asylum seekers, whose marriages have now been disintegrated, and they are seeking advice.
Namiwa said it is against this background that CDEDI decided to request the Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament to consider discussing the matter and see if it is worth being tabled in the National Assembly for further debate in order to review the “archaic laws” governing the refugees and asylum seekers in Malawi.
He justified that a better chunk of Malawi’s economy is controlled by foreign based business operators, most of whom have no legal permits for such business activities, precisely the refugees and asylum seekers.
“Some foreign nationals who entered into the country as investors, have beaten the system and are operating as economic migrants, something which is conveniently ignored and rarely discussed; mrriages are at the verge of disintegration – CDEDI has received reports where even top government officials and cabinet ministers married some refugees and asylum seekers and vice versa,” said Namiwa.
He added that some of the refugees and asylum seekers came into Malawi with skills and expertise that have benefited the society, and are rendering essential services in areas of health, education and social work, among other sectors.
He lamented that the recent government directive seems to have been craftly narrowed down only to our brothers and sisters from Rwanda and Burundi, fondly called Maburundi, when the rest, i.e. those from Nigeria, Somalia, India, Pakistan, Lebanon and China are deemed off the hook.
“Some of those affected by the directive have stayed in Malawi, and outside the refugee camp, for over 25 years, thereby raising the questions as to what the law enforcers have been doing all this time? It is important to bear in mind that asylum seekers and refugees also have rights and dignity as human beings, therefore, reports of inadequate space at Dzaleka refugee camp ought to be considered,” emphasized Namiwa.
CDEDI has since requested the Speaker of Parliament, Catherine Gotani Hara, to ensure that the petition is presented and debated within this sitting of parliament, stressing that the matter at hand has far-reaching consequences to the country’s economy.
But in reaction, the Minister of Information and Government Spokesperson, Gospel Kazako, said the government will proceed with the relocation exercise as there is nothing criminal about it and that Malawi is only following the statutes.
Kazako said the incumbent government will not tolerate lawlessness to flourish as it was the case in the previous administrations.