About 400 families of Mozambican refugees are back in Malawi just three months after government repatriated them, raising security concerns among hosting communities in the border district of Mwanza.
In October last year, government repatriated over 2 000 refugees from Luwani Refugee Camp in Neno after hosting them for about two years.
The refugees fled persecution from the Mozambican National Resistance (Renamo)—a rebel group turned political party which has been fighting government soldiers for some time.
In a telephone interview, Senior Chief Nthache of Mwanza said the number of refugees crossing the border continues to rise since New Year.
Nthache claimed that about 400 families have already trekked back into his area.
“These people have no shelter. They have no food, so, incidences of theft have been reported. On top of that, lack of shelter, sanitation is compromised. I hope government will find them a better place such as Luwani,” explained the traditional authority who has tasked village heads to continue documenting the number of incoming refugees.
Confirming the development, United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNCHR) spokesperson Lumbani Msiska said the government of Malawi will have to decide whether to re-open Luwani Refugee Camp.
“Staff from Ministry of Homeland Security conducted a mission at Masokosa Village to assess the claims on January 4 2019. While some came to join relatives on the Malawi side, others claimed that they had been threatened by Renamo soldiers to leave.
“They claim to have been warned about an impending war and it was for their own safety that they are fleeing,”he said.
Msiska, however, indicated that the claims have not been verified with the Mozambican Government.
UNCHR said it was not strange to see people from Mozambique cross the border into Malawi at this time of the season.
Asked if they intend to support this group of refugees, Msiska said: “UNHCR is wary of intervening immediately for fear of creating a precedent and until there are solid indications of what is happening, we will be cautious about jumping to conclusions.”
But government, which estimates the number of families to be 60- translating to 361 individuals, has ruled out any possibility of re-opening the closed Luwani Camp, saying the recorded figures do not warrant it.
Responding to our questionnaire, Deputy Commissioner for Refugees in the Ministry of Homeland Security Hudson Mankhwala said government is currently consulting with UNHCR on the way forward.
“So far, individuals are being assisted with shelter by the local communities in Thambani area. The government wants to engage other stakeholders for intervention on food and Wash [Water and Sanitation],” he said.
In 2016, refugees trekked to some villages in border areas until the number grew to thousands, forcing government and other agencies to open a temporary shelter at Kapise Village.
They were later relocated to Luwani Camp which has enabling infrastructure such as houses, health centre and a school.