Refugees who are living in the country’s towns and cities have pleaded with government to postpone a decision to relocate them back to Dzaleka Refugee Camp.
Addressing the press yesterday at Dzaleka Refugee Camp after holding consultations among themselves, representatives of Burundians, Rwandans and Congolese nationals decried the move as detrimental to their well-being, citing security of their investments across the country and poor conditions at the camp.
“We are begging government to listen to us as their children. We are not against government’s position but if we go by the 28th April deadline, we will not be able to move in time as some of us have businesses, some have houses and other properties.
“Government should allow us one more year so that we can finish our businesses and go back to the camp,” said Roman Bijangala, a representative of the Congolese.
He further urged government to ensure there is a proper plan so that refugees’ property is not looted and that no migrant should suffer xenophobic attacks following the order.
Minister of Homeland Security Richard Chimwendo Banda last week issued a 14-day ultimatum for the nearly 2 000 refugees living among local communities, to return to the camp in Dowa by April 28.
Among others, the minister cited national security as the reason behind the ultimatum.
Kanamula John, a representative of Rwandan community, said one of their main concerns is congestion at the camp.
He said: “The camp was supposed to house some 10 000 people, but we are now over 40 000 and the people who are returning will not easily find space.
“That means more diseases and hardships as the cold season starts. .”
But Chimwendo Banda yesterday said while government would consider protecting the refugees’ investments, its priority was for every refugee to immediately return to the camp.
He said: “It’s a bad approach to go to the media before approaching us. It’s not just about the business issue, there are other issues we are looking into, we are not chasing them, and we just want them to be where they should be.
“We had problems in the system then and we are asking them to follow the law and go back to Dzaleka. Those who have businesses and want to bring to our attention their special cases, we can handle that case by case, but they will have to operate from Dzaleka. They can operate from Dzaleka, let them go to the camp and we might consider their cases.”
Chimwendo Banda said government was working with United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNCHR) to address challenges cited by the refugees.
But Human Rights Defenders Coalition chairperson Gift Trapence urged government to implement the order carefully.
He said: “Refugees are one of the most vulnerable groups, as such, government should make sure that they execute the actions within the laws of this country and international refugee law.”
UNHCR officials could not immediately comment on the matter.
At least 48 547 refugees and asylum seekers were living at Dzaleka Refugee Camp as of January 31 2021.