About 30 members of Karonga-Chitipa Heritage yesterday sang and marched to Parliament Building in Lilongwe to present a petition that condemned government’s plans to relocate refugees from Dowa to Karonga.
“[The basis of] our stand against [the] transfer is [that] it is easier to control urban refugees and even to integrate them directly,” Karonga-Chitipa Heritage vice-chairperson (Centre) Sophie Kalinde read out part of the petition at the Parliament gate.
The petition further said Katili is the only upland area initially meant for relocation of Malawians displaced by natural disasters such as floods and earthquakes.
“The refugee camp will dispossess the locals of their land that is already allocated in preference to transferring a refugee camp which is already very well established in Dowa,” it added.
The petition also said relocating the refugees to Katili is likely to worsen HIV and Aids prevalence, cause environmental degradation, facilitate an increase in crime and will deprive the people in the area of the right to development.
“The assumption that UNHCR [United Nations High Commission for Refugees] will act as a developmental UN agency in Karonga is both erroneous and misleading…
“Dangling the carrot by various stakeholders for development to the people of Katili and Karonga for their acceptance of the refugee camp is a direct violation of the right to dignity and development,” the petition added.
The petition was signed by Karonga-Chitipa Heritage national coordinator Alfred Mwambila and general secretary Wantwa Mwahimba. It was signed by chiefs in Karonga and addressed to the Speaker of Parliament, the Ministry of Home Affairs, the UNHCR country representative and the Karonga district commissioner.
Speaking when he received the petition on behalf of the House, Parliamentary Committee on Defence and Security chairperson Olipa Myaba Chiluba commended the petition presenters for a peaceful and orderly march to Parliament premises.
Government announced plans to relocate the more than 15 000 refugees—mainly from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Rwanda, Burundi and Somalia—from Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Dowa to Katili in Karonga.
The government argues that the refugees need to be near their border entry points and away from cities, where they tend to gravitate to in pursuit of employment and businesses.