The number of registered Mozambican refugees who flooded the country a few months ago has sharply dropped to 700 with most of them now reportedly living among Malawian communities.
As of April 2016, Malawi had more than 12 000 registered Mozambican asylum seekers accommodated at Kapise Refugee Transit Centre in Mwanza.
The people were fleeing their villages in Mozambique, particularly in Tete Province, due to deadly skirmishes between government soldiers and opposition armed groups.
Reports indicate that while some embarked on voluntary repatriation to their country following the return of peace, hundreds of other refugees have independently integrated themselves in local communities.
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) outgoing senior emergency coordinator Fadela Novak-Irons confirmed in an interview yesterday that the number of refugees had dropped over the past weeks.
She said: “We carried out a verification exercise at Kapise and we registered a total of 774 individuals as at June 27.”
The UNHCR official said many spontaneous departures had been noted at Kapise over the past weeks and by the time the verification process was being completed few people had remained at the camp.
“It is hard to exactly say where they are going because they leave spontaneously without saying anything … But we trust these few hundred individuals have been welcomed to stay by the local population and the chiefs,” she said.
Information indicates that some of the refugees have integrated themselves in local communities in Mwanza, Neno, Chikwawa, Nsanje and as far as Blantyre while some are back in their villages in Mozambique.
Novak-Irons also said there were reports that some may be hiding as they did before they fled to Malawi “to reach a safe haven” while spontaneous returns have been noted too in most parts of Tete province.
“Some may also have gone to other places in Malawi as some had links to refugees or Malawian families in other parts of Mwanza and even Blantyre,” she said.
But Ministry of Home Affairs and Internal Security Principal Secretary Beston Chisamile, while confirming about the decline in numbers, said government position was that following discussions with Mozambican counterparts those willing to return must do so.
He said: “The situation in most places is becoming stable and the people are going back. Of course, some are not getting back to their original homes but at least they are going.”
He could not confirm reports that some refugees are leaving the camp and residing with local communities.
“The ones living in the communities are those that might have relations in Malawi. However, we will carry another exercise to assess those that are still around and what they are doing,” said Chisamile.
He said a team will be sent to conduct a physical verification through the district commissioner’s office as most of them registered with traditional leaders.