The Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) and a human rights lawyer have warned government against violating refugees’ rights in relocating them to Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Dowa.
In an interview yesterday, HRDC chairperson Gift Trapence said the refugees consist individuals who have businesses and owe Malawians who supply goods to them; hence, the need to give them time to resolve such issues.
He said: “HRDC is not against moving the refugees to the camp, but rather we are urging the government to carefully implement the order to ensure that it also safeguards their rights.
“When executing the order, they should also carefully look at the socio-economic rights as well. HRDC doesn’t want to see scenarios where people are taking advantage of grabbing refugees’ assets or ransacking them.”
Trapence urged government to systematically implement the order.
Early this month, the Ministry of Homeland Security issued a statement asking all refugees to relocate back to Dzaleka Refugee Camp by April 28, failing which the ministry will be compelled to use necessary force.
Writing on his Facebook page yesterday, human rights lawyer Chrispine Sibande said it was important to discuss the matter, stressing that one area of the discussion is comparable analysis of how refugees are treated in other countries.
He said: “Yes, we have Malawians who sought refuge in other countries claiming persecution back home on political matters and some cultural practices. How do other countries treat refugees? Do they allow them to do large and small-scale businesses?”
Sibande said the bottom line is that most of the refugees being targeted are doing small-scale businesses and they can be categorised as poor and vulnerable.
He said in such regard, it brings in light Section 20 of the Constitution which prohibits discrimination in the country, adding that from the look of things, refugees are being discriminated against on the basis of their status in the country.
While wondering why the country opted for a blanket ban on the refugees instead of giving them permits to do some businesses, Sibande said refugees have rights like every other human being.
He wrote further: “I wish this matter went to court so that we Malawians settle this matter of refugees for once and for all. Looks like we have no clear policy on how we treat refugees and things keep changing from one government to another.”
But when contacted yesterday, Ministry of Homeland Security spokesperson Andrew Nyondo in a written response said government will not deprive the refugees of their economic rights, adding that is why they have been freely doing businesses in the country.
He said: “The law as well as the policy requires them to be in the camp and do businesses while in the camp. What government does not want is for them to be scattered all over the country without having any documentation.”
When asked on the extension of relocating the refugees, Nyondo said the ministry believes that the timeframe given is reasonable.