There has been some pulling around over the issue of the proclamation by Homeland Security Minister Richard Chimwendo Banda that refugees living outside camp should relocate to Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Dowa.
Arguments have been flying around on the merits and demerits of sending the refugees back to camp. Needless to say that they have all been bundled under one banner when we needed to understand who we really are dealing with, whether refugees, asylum seekers or illegal immigrants.
May be that should not belabour us so much now, what matters is that the minister said the 2 000 or so foreigners must be back in camp because the encampment policy does not allow them to conduct business or get employment outside the camp.
The Bible is a forest, and indeed both sides of the coin have found apt verses to suit their tests.
Those against the relocation, saying it is a form of oppression, have quoted, among others, Exodus 22:21, which goes: You shall neither mistreat a stranger nor oppress him [sic], for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. Forget the gender insensitivity in this version.
On the other hand, those who are standing for the relocation are quoting Deuteronomy 28:33, which say people that you do not know will eat what your land and labour produce, and you will have nothing but cruel oppression all your days.
It is clear that the proponents and opponents of the move are picky choosy, so this matter can’t be and shouldn’t be sorted out using emotions.
It has been argued by some activists that a hasty relocation would just create room for some animosity from certain quarters of our society who see some of the foreigners as stifling their own businesses to turn violent, reminiscent of the xenophobic attacks in South Africa.
It is really difficult to take a side in the arguments which are also taking historic twists as some suggest that as Malawians we are foreigners in this land that belonged to the Akafula (the Bantu people). The others rebut that argument, saying when that was happening there were no migration laws.
One thing that I find curious so far is that the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) or the International Migration Organisation (IOM) has chosen to keep quiet on the matter. May be they will come in at some point to see whether our domestic laws and policies are in tandem with the norm internationally, especially on the encompment policy Chimwendo Banda has been quoting. I say so because his argument is that refugees in towns and villages are a security threat.
Whatever the case, this is not the proper time that the homeland security ministry should try to be seen to be doing something about refugees. Their plate is already full because right now Malawians are waiting to see how the people suspected of squandering K6.2 billion Covid-19 funds are going to be tried. Whether refugees are relocated to Dzaleka or not is of little consequence to most Malawians who are still waiting to see some of the people mentioned in the audit report arrested as well. Or else, they will still be counting the sacred cows in the shody deals.
The refugee issue comes at the wrong time, as Malawians are still wondering why in this day and age we should be seeing a government awarding a K9 billion contract for the construction of ‘an Olympic Standard Swimming Pool’.
This relocation comes at a strange time the UNHCR has been talking about decongesting Dzaleka, which has close to 48 000 refugees, instead of the 10 000. There are already pressures on health, hygiene and sanitation in the camp. Not to talk about massive environmental degradation and hunger why should we make the burden greater now?