Inua Advocacy–an organization advocating for refugee rights in Malawi and beyond–submitted to the Independent Complaints Commission (ICC) 37 cases of refugee rights violations “perpetrated by Malawi Police Service (MPS) officers” in the government’s relocation of refugees and asylum seekers to Dzaleka refugee camp.
The organization’s Advocacy and Liaison Officer, Matchona Phiri, said this on Sunday in Lilongwe during a public dialogue on the affairs of refugees and asylum seekers in Malawi, which was organized by Youth and Society (YAS) in partnership with Welthungerhilfe (WHH).
The government, using MPS, is relocating all refugees and asylum seekers living in urban and rural areas to Dzaleka camp, a move civil society (CSO) groups have condemned, following revelations of widespread abuse of the rights of refugees in the exercise.
According to Phiri, the cases reported to the ICC, among others, include: rape, beatings, illegal detention and police officers demanding and taking money from refugees and asylum seekers.
Phiri said they are waiting to hear from ICC, which is mandated to look into complaints against the brutality and general misconduct of the MPS and its officers.
“We submitted our report in September and gave the ICC time to do their own investigations. We have not yet heard from them. But we will continue following up to see if there is any progress on the cases we submitted to them.
“We want the government to apply the laws that are in place to adequately respond to these issues. The government must activate its mechanisms and institutions responsible for following up such issues”.
Senior Administrative and Operations Manager for the Department of Refugees, Hilda Kausiwa, maintained the government’s position that the refugees and asylum seekers ought to be relocated “because they flouted laws stipulating that they reside in their designated camp”.
“They are not abiding by the laws of the country as they found themselves outside Dzaleka camp. In fact, they were supposed to move to the camp voluntarily, which they did not, prompting security agencies to enforce the laws.
“But if there were any violations of rights for anyone, this was obviously not sanctioned by government. If anyone violated any rights, they ought to be answerable for their own actions”.
Another concern for the CSOs is the swelling of the population at Dzaleka camp, following the relocation of the refugees and asylum seekers from urban and rural areas. The camp, meant to host between 10,000 to 12,000 people, now accommodates over 52,000.
CSO groups say this has led to violation of so many rights, including right to food, education and shelter and freedom of movement and economic activity, among others.
YAS Executive Director, Charles Kajoloweka, echoed the concerns around the implications of the relocation exercise, adding “it has created a humanitarian crisis”.
“There is a lot of pressure in the camp on the basic needs of refugees like access to food, water, education and shelter. Other rights violations are extortion, robbery and loss of property by refugees and asylum seekers.
“This constitutes serious abdication of government obligation to protection of rights of refugees. Government should reconsider its position on the relocation to prevent these serious violations that continue to happen”.
YAS organized the public dialogue to provide a solution-focused platform to various stakeholders and the public to openly engage on critical matters concerning refugees and asylum seekers in Malawi.
The platform also enabled exchange of information and raise public awareness on the legal and policy framework governing refugees and asylum seekers, the current human rights situation of refugees in Malawi, as well as challenges, opportunities and solutions in advancing the plight of refugees and asylum seekers.