Members of Parliament (MPs) yesterday took turns expressing concern on the rising numbers of refugees in the country, saying apart from exerting pressure on local resources, the situation pose security threat.
The debate started after the presentation of a Parliamentary Committee on International Relations report which recommended that government should seriously control the number of refugees.
The committee’s vice-chairperson Victoria Kingstone, who is MP for Mangochi Central, said they inspected refugee camps and discovered that some refugees have passed the refugee status.
“We discovered that some of these people fled their countries because of war and other forms of conflict, but now there is peace in those countries. The committee, therefore, recommends that such people should be repatriated,” she said.
The report further highlights threats that the refugees pose on national security, economic activities and pressure on national resources since government is required to service the refugee camps.
Mulanje South West legislator George Chaponda suggested the establishment of a refugee determination board screen immigrants to determine their refugee status.
“Some of these people are economic immigrants who just come and scramble for small businesses which should have been done by Malawians but with a board in place, such people can be noted and sent back,” he said.
Dowa West parliamentarian Abel Kayembe said due to non-action on the issue of refugees, some of them have started demanding rights they are not entitled to enjoy .
“I come from one of the districts with the highest number of refugees and if you hear what these people are demanding, you will see the gravity of the matter. They are even demanding to have their own councillor, imagine,” he said.
Mchinji South West MP Deus Gumba Banda asked Minister of Homeland security Richard Chimwendo Banda to explain conditions under which a refugee can be repatriated.
He said urgent action is needed on the rising number of refugees who are now leaving their designated camps to infiltrate communities.
In response, Chimwendo Banda said government has already rejected 1 500 people as refugees and they will be sent back to their countries soon.
He said currently there are 32 126 refugees from Congo, 11 823 from Burundi and 7 759 from Rwanda, among others.
The minister also said government is engaging the countries the refugees come from on the logistics of repatriating those who feel they can return.
“One thing which we need to consider is that repatriation is voluntary not by force so this needs proper consultation. We will engage the Security Committee and the Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament on this,” said Chimwendo Banda.
Human Rights activist Michael Kaiyatsa has warned that being a signatory of the 1951 Refugee Convention and International Convention against Torture, Malawi needs to avoid measures that will go against its international obligations.
He said despite peace prevailing in countries where the refugees came from, the international refugee law does not allow repatriating refugees to countries where they are likely to face persecution.
“If you can do a good assessment, you will discover that some of them are political refugees so with or without war, their lives will be endangered,” said Kaiyatsa.
Recently, the Ministry of Homeland Security issued a directive that all refugees living outside Dzaleka Refugee Camp should be relocated to their place but the directive was challenged with an injunction.