Call them what you like. Refugees.Asylum seekers.Illegal immigrants.Economic immigrants.Economic saboteurs. These are some of the many unpalatable words that describe the people confined to Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Dowa.
But one or two expressions often miss in our descriptions: people with skills that would benefit Malawi. Most of the people “imprisoned” at Dzaleka have special skills as medical doctors, engineers, business persons, teachers of all levels. Of course, some may be criminals.
Because of its anti-refugee policies, Malawi does not benefit much from hosting refugees and asylum seekers.
Malawi’s policy is that refugees and asylum seekers must stay in refugee camps until they return to their countries of origin or their status changes.
If the refugees or asylum seekers are found loitering, doing business and other things outside the camps, they must be brought back to the camps by force or cajolement. Recently, the Malawi government shoved all refugees and asylum seekers living and operating businesses in rural areas and towns to their Dzaleka camp.
We find the policy of refugee encampment wasteful. It must change so that Malawi benefits from the refugee population. Some of these are people who genuinely run away from persecution and death. They come to Malawi to seek peace. And humanity.And Umunthu.
Thus, we, guided by our indefatigable, impeccable, and unimpeachable Genuine Prof Dr Joyce Befu, MG 66 and MEGA-1, propose that Malawi should change the current refugee management policies and adopt the Uganda model.
Uganda hosts more refugees than any other country on the African continent. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR) the number of refugees in Ugandan refugee camps hovers around 1.5 million while Malawi hosts about 50 thousand refugees (only).
Despite this large number of refugees, Uganda is not complaining about the influx of fresh refugees. Why? It has refugee-friendly policies. For its welcoming policies, Uganda has earned worldwide kudos and large sums of money.
Uganda follows the Kampala Declaration on Jobs, Livelihoods & Self-reliance for Refugees, Returnees & Host Communities in the IGAD Region and other international instruments to the letter.
Like in Malawi, in Uganda, refugees live in camps, yes. However, in Uganda they are allowed to get permits to access formal employment or conduct businesses. Employed refugees stay in their camps but they go out to work or conduct in urban areas. Both the refugees and Ugandans benefit economically and build bonds and trust. Some even intermarry.
Secondly, in Museveni’s country, refugees are budgeted for. The health and education budgets indicate how much is allocated to refugees so that refugees receive good health and education without discrimination. This implies that international funds meant for refugee support are channeled to the Ugandan national budget.
Malawi has been a host to refugees for almost 50 years, especially during the Mozambican war for independence. During that period, Mozambican refugees were registered and easily mixed and mingled with locals. Of course, the majority were in the designated camps.
Admitted. Over the years the refugee problem has become unmanageable due to alleged corruption among officials and locals who receive money to host the refugees privately.
Of late, economic migrants have been alleged to pay village heads, police officers, and others to pass through Malawi to other destinations. Some have even married Malawians to easily get Malawian citizenship and crucial documents like passports and National Identity Cards.
These problems will end if refugees are allowed to legally work, legally conduct businesses, legally marry, and legally apply for citizenship. Let us accept that the refugee population is very much part of Malawi’s reality and the country should start budgeting for it like Uganda does.
Do you know what happens when a refugee dies? Is he or she is buried in the local graveyard, presided over by a local chief or his or her body is sent back to that person’s country of origin?
Ask the chiefs around Dzaleka.