Eight out of 10 rice mills in Mchesi, Lilongwe are owned by foreign nationals whom the locals believe are refugees from Dzaleka Camp in Dowa, according to our findings.
The foreign nationals have also infiltrated other townships such as Area 23, 24, 25, Kawale, Likuni and Devil Street.
Their activities are causing resentment among the small-scale local business people who feel they are being unfairly squeezed out of business by people with whom they cannot compete with.
A Mchesi resident, Phillip Mwale, claimed in an interview on Tuesday that he closed his grocery business because of the increasing number of ‘refugees’ mostly Burundians, Rwandans and Congolese who, among other businesses, run rice mills, liquor shops and bottle stores.
“We cannot compete with these people because they buy their merchandise with the rations they receive as refugees at Dzaleka and sell them at cheaper prices. It is not surprising that they have taken over all businesses in the township,” said Mwale who has a family to support.
Another Mchesi resident Msayiwale Gwesele, who is in the same predicament as Mwale, described the trend as a ticking time bomb for the government.
He said the situation is causing resentment among locals, who are finding it difficult to make ends meet.
Gwesele recollects an incident, a few years ago, that led to chaos in the area. He said a Burundian allegedly killed a Malawian in cold blood during a fight.
He says following the incident, locals went on rampage, looting shops belonging to foreigners and police had to fire tear gas and rubber bullets to quell the situation.
Said Gwesele: “Everything may look peaceful now but it may take a small incident and the whole township may be on fire. The situation needs urgent attention before it is too late.”
Mchesi Market is divided into three blocks, according to ‘chieftaincy’ and a block leader, Abiti Umali, suspects that there are over 120 foreigners running businesses in her area.
But she blamed the locals for selling land and houses to the foreign nationals.
Said Umali: “It is not a secret that this township is keeping a lot of foreigners and their way of life has become so normal here. We see them buying houses and building new ones, start small businesses and within a few months they open more shops.”
Mwale and Gwesele accused authorities of turning a blind eye to the burgeoning number of foreigners sneaking into the city and crowding locals out of business.
In an interview last Wednesday, Immigration Department and Citizenship Services spokesperson Joseph Chauwa acknowledged the existence of foreign nationals in the township.
He said a lot of them do not have business and residence permits.
“But we play our rightful role of monitoring, tracking, apprehending, prosecuting, deporting and repatriating illegal immigrants to promote security of the country and safeguard employment for Malawians,” explained Chauwa.
He said in 2015 the department arrested 1 912 illegal immigrants in Lilongwe; 1 422 in 2016 and 883 last year.
The police have also admitted being aware of the rising number of foreigners in the city and that law enforcers will continue to provide security where necessary.
In an interview on Thursday, National Police deputy spokesperson Thomeck Nyaude said: “We don’t have powers to stop them from residing in townships. That is the responsibility of the Immigration Department. But if they commit a crime, we arrest them.”
Ministry of Trade, Industry and Tourism spokesperson Wiskes Nkombezi observed that it is illegal for non-Malawians to operate a business without a licence.
He confirmed that a number of businesses in Mchesi and other townships do not have licences.
Nkombezi disclosed that very soon the ministry in collaboration with the city council, police and Department of Immigration will mount a sweeping exercise in all townships to kick out all such people.
He said: “It doesn’t matter whether they are Burundians, Nigerians, Indians, Chinese, if they are doing that in contravention of the law, they will be kicked out.” n