Some refugees, who live outside their designated camps, are committing serious crimes such as homicide Weekend Nation has established.
A convention relating to the status of refugees, which Malawi adopted in 1951, in respect of article 26 reads: “The Government of the Republic of Malawi reserves its right to designate the place or places of residence of the refugees and to restrict their movements whenever considerations of national security or public order so require”
According to senior State advocate Pilirani Masanjala, who is also Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs spokesperson, at least 20 refugees are answering homicide-related cases committed outside their designated areas.
He says the figure could be higher taking into account crimes being prosecuted by the police. Statistics show that in 2012, the country had recorded at least 279 murder cases down from 900 in 2001.
He said: “Most of the time, you find that two or three refugees have committed a crime together with Malawians. Our records show that there are at least 15 to 20 refugees answering homicide related charges.”
National Police spokesperson James Kadadzera asked for more time to check on the statistics and did not provide anything as we went to press.
However, Weekend Nation findings have established that the DPP opened a file of attempted murder charges for at least two Burundian refugees Emmanuel Sekanao and Dezire Bintuari and five Malawians for allegedly shooting a Burundian businessperson Vincent Niyongira in Salima on July 10 last year.
Masanjala confirmed the existence of the file, adding that the case is likely to start in the next two months.
The Malawians are Mabvuto Kapichi, Robert Moyo, Khumbo Mlenga, Charles Mussa and Emmanuel Banda.
The victim survived as the bullet only pierced through his left upper arm. He was rushed to Salima District Hospital where he was treated, according to police records.
Police officers, who are familiar with the case and spoke on condition of anonymity, told this paper that some suspects confessed during interrogation that they were hired by the foreign nationals to carry out the operation.
The officers also disclosed that one of the suspects is a habitual offender and was arrested on a number of occasions by law enforcers in Nambuma area in Lilongwe where he claims his parents reside.
The High Court in Lilongwe on November 1 granted bail to the suspects who are now waiting to appear before the court.
In his ruling for bail application Judge Chifundo Kachale observed that initially there was a real threat to public order if the suspects were granted. But the State did not object to a fresh bail application after a 30-day period of detention that the court sanctioned.
The bail conditions include a K100 000, two sureties, each surety to further pay K50 000 cash each and surrendering of travel documents.
It is also not clear how the suspects acquired the gun which they used in the alleged shooting, and both the police and officers from the DPP are keeping a tight lid on the matter.
Our findings, however, show that the two Burundian suspects hold a refugee status and are supposed to be at Dzaleka Camp in Dowa but now live in Salima where they operate businesses like ordinary Malawians. Dzaleka Camp built to accommodate 9 000 people is now home to 28 000 refugees mostly from Rwanda, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia.
We have also established that many refugees from the camp run small-scale businesses in Lilongwe.
Their activities are causing resentment among the local small-scale business people who feel they are being unfairly squeezed out by people whom they cannot compete with because the foreign nationals receive free rations from the camp.
Said one officer from Salima: “The case was transferred to Lilongwe and prosecutors from the regional office conducted further investigations. We also saw the suspects after they had been released on remand from Maula prison.”
The victim claims he was granted a Malawian citizenship and believes some business people both local and foreign are jealousy of his thriving wholesale and transportation business.
He recollects he was on his way back from his shop on the fateful day around 6pm when he was shot inside his compound after two men had followed him from the gate.
His security guard Moffat Paul who wrestled with the third thug at the gate was able to identify the suspect when called to do so at the police station following the arrests.
Niyongira also added that weeks prior to the shooting, he had received calls from one of the alleged accomplices proposing a business meeting between the two of them but the victim kept turning down the request.
Said Niyongira: “Call logs that the police acquired showed that it was Two Pac’s number that was calling me. There have been a number of fabrications of stories about me by my fellow Burundians just to taint my image.”
In an interview 2Pac he said that he has no lawyer and refused to take further questions.
Lawyer for the victim Lugano Mwabutwa explained that he has applied for consent from the DPP to prosecute the case privately, but the DPP is yet to response to the request.
The lawyer also pointed out that he did not take part in proceedings for bail application as the State is the one handling the matter now.
But human rights defenders have faulted the authorities for their laxity and failure to enforce existing laws to keep refugees in designated camps.
Executive director of Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) executive director Timothy Mtambo said: “As refugees they are not free to do whatever they want. These people need to respect the laws of this country and abide by them. There is too much laxity by State authorities.”
Parliament is also calling upon the Executive to pull up its socks by ensuring that citizens in the country are protected from any external forces.
Chairperson for parliamentary committee on International Relations Alex Major pushed the blame on the executive for dragging its feet to act.
“Much as Malawi is a signatory to a number of treaties and protocols, the leadership must always strive to prioritise what is best for the country and its citizens. The involvement of refugees in violent crimes in the country should be a wake-up call to the authorities that something is not right.”
In a telephone interview last Friday, secretary general for Malawi Law Society (MLS) Michael Goba Chipeta observed that immigration laws and the Refugee Act are clear on what is expected of foreign nationals residing in the country as refugees or asylum seekers.
Chipeta agrees with Major that enforcement of the existing laws is the problem.
However, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in the country did not respond to our questionnaire on policing mechanisms in place aimed at confining refugees and asylum seekers to their designated place.
But social commentator Undule Mwakasungula has observed that it is important to note that refugee’s right to work is vital for reducing vulnerability, enhancing resilience and securing dignity among the group.
He said: “But we should know that, there are many well –qualified refugees who are not able to work due to these restrictions despite possessing valuable skills.”