According to a report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Malawi hosts over 5 796 refugees and 11 139 asylum seekers. Prisons across the country have over 200 illegal immigrants on remand.
This regular and irregular mixed migration flow includes nationals from west and east Africa, central Africa and the Great Lakes region and the Horn of Africa and Asia.
In spite of legal instruments protecting their human rights, these people pose a menace to national security if left unrestrained. Less has been done to seal the porosity of our borders.
Migrants easily find their way into the country through Chitipa and Karonga in the Northern Region and Mulanje and Chikwawa in the Southern Region where our counterparts in Mozambique have more than 21 border posts against Malawi’s three, namely Muloza, Mwanza and Chiromo.
When it comes to prisons, Maula Prison was constructed some 50 years ago and was designed to host 800 inmates, but now host over 2 650 inmates of whom a greater percentage comprises remanded illegal immigrants.
Unlike in some countries, which have detentions centres, Malawi has prisons as the only facilities to accommodate such suspects. This worsens the already decrepit prison conditions in the country. For a decade, few illegal immigrants have been deported from Malawi due to financial constraints facing the country.
Stakeholders and relevant authorities have been advocating for free transit of migrants who want to use Malawi as a transit route as opposed to arresting and remanding them in prisons.
There is much need to review the Citizenship Act (Cap. 15:01) as well as the Immigration Act (Cap. 15:03). This will help regularise some trends that can even be of benefit to the nation. Investors feel harassed by being taken to task over work or business permits let alone they have stayed in the country for decades.
Prevailing immigration laws in Malawi are archaic and there are no definite policies guiding management of migration. They were adopted in 1964 (Immigration Act) and 1966 (Citizenship Act). The acts do not respond to emerging issues in mixed migration and other world principles in migration supervision.
There was a Rwandan refugee (name withheld) who came to Malawi as an asylum seeker and lived at Dzaleka Refugee Camp cultivating tobacco despite being a professional pilot.
Efforts were made to absorb him into the industry, but he was barred by law. Through UNHCR, he applied for a job with Air France and is now based in Paris. Another refugee is working with a referral hospital, but has not been naturalised.
Tanzania naturalised 162 000 refugees from Burundi some years ago upon seeing their good character and expertise. This helps ease contravention of the law and abiding by the 1951 Organisation of African Unity (OAU) Convention on the Protection and Protocol relating to status of refugees.
In Malawi, human trafficking and smuggling continue to be perpetrated by some Malawians and foreigners. This has risen because of poverty. Over 1 000 Malawians are being kept at Lindera Detention Facility in South Africa. According to UNHCR, there are 4 254 registered Malawian asylum seekers around the world. Government continues to say it will find a lasting solution to issues of migration.
Migration will continue to rise for as long as economic challenges and natural disasters continue dogging our societies. The State should ensure that duty-bearers or front line officers such as those from the Immigration Department, Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA), police and the army are trained and equipped for this cause. Furthermore, government should institute tough laws to prosecute perpetrators.