Refugees in the country have dragged the government to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged human rights violations in their relocation process.
The refugees have moved the ICC through their representative associations and organisations such as FGK Umuhuza Foundation, SOS Refugees in the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) Region and the Refugees and Asylum Seekers Victims of Persecution in Malawi.
In a letter dated October 15 2023 to the ICC prosecutor in the Hague, the refugees argue through their Belgium lawyer Jean Flamme that their relocation to Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Dowa was characterised by numerous alleged human rights violations which they want to be probed.
Reads part of the letter: “Houses and businesses were destroyed; entire families were incarcerated arbitrarily and illegally without any form of arrest warrant and without having been brought before a judge.
“These people have not been subject to criminal investigations. Hundreds of these people were transferred to an already overpopulated refugee camp. The overcrowded camp is unable to meet the food, health, water and sanitation needs of its population.”
Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Dowa
The refugees, according to the letter, also argue that in the relocation process, some were allegedly beaten by police and alleged Rwandan agents.
Besides, the letter states that on July 9 2023, the refugees wrote the Malawi Government and Attorney General (AG) through Flamme whereupon a legal opinion was presented stating that the relocation process constitutes the commission of crimes against humanity.
The refugees claim the government did not respond; hence, reporting to the ICC.
“We, therefore, ask you to open an official investigation as soon as possible. The situation is very urgent, as many innocent people are on the edge of being deported to Rwanda where they will be incarcerated, tortured and possibly killed,” reads the letter further.
And in the July 9 2023 letter which contains the legal opinion, the refugees asked for the cancellation of the relocation exercise.
The letter was addressed to the Office of President and Cabinet, AG’s Office and ministries of Foreign Affairs and Homeland Security.
According to the letter, Flamme met with the Head of Chancery at the Malawi Embassy in Brussels, Billy Mayaya, on July 5 2023 and they agreed that the latter would send the legal opinion to the Malawi Government.
“We do hope that it will be possible to reach an agreement which is acceptable for both parties,” reads part of the letter.
Ministry of Homeland Security spokesperson Patrick Botha on Wednesday argued that the relocation of the refugees was premised on the law and that it was court sanctioned.
“The concerned refugees were not subject to arbitrary arrests, they were being rounded after giving them more than ample time to relocate voluntarily. Notice was issued on March 27 2023 giving them 15 days to relocate voluntarily.
“Enforcement started on May 17 2023, a clear indication that more than ample time was given. The alleged abuse, if at all, should be reported and investigated as individual cases and not prima facie.”
Botha said while the government has the obligation to ensure safety and security of refugees, refugees and asylum seekers also have an obligation to respect the laws of the land.
AG Thabo Chakaka Nyirenda was yet to respond to our questionnaire sent to him on Wednesday.
Nation on Sunday wanted to seek government’s position following the relocation debacle going to the ICC.
On Thursday, Inua Advocacy, who advocates for the rights of refugees and asylum seekers, condemned a Malawi delegation to the 77th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights underway in Arusha, Tanzania, for misrepresenting facts as regards the relocation exercise.
In his address at the session, principal State advocate Duncan Zikagwa said the Malawi Government ensured safety of refugees and asylum seekers was met during the relocation process.
But in a statement, Inua Advocacy communications office stated that the relocation was marred by a myriad of systematic human rights violations, including rape, unlawful detention of children and women, extortions, forced and unlawful deportations and xenophobic narratives by authorities.
The relocation was conducted as part of the government’s encampment policy which restricts refugees from certain rights such as living outside the camp, accessing tertiary education and formal employment.
But the exercise received mixed reactions from various civil society organisations and United States Ambassador David Young, who advocated for its suspension.
But Minister of Information and Digitisation Moses Kunkuyu argued that the government was operating within the legal framework.
The government’s position was backed by the Parliamentary Committees on Defence and Security, Trade and Industry and International Relations on the basis that the exercise was premised on the law.
In a joint statement, the parliamentary committees argued that enforcement of the encampment policy came after several reminders to the refugees and asylum seekers to relocate.
When the refugees were rounded up, they were first taken to Maula Prison prior to being taken to Dzaleka Refugee Camp in July the World Food Programme announced a reduction by 50 percent of its assistance due to funding constraints.
This meant that thousands of refugees at the camp would be adversely affected.
The international organisation has been providing the refugees at the camp with cash and other forms of assistance to, among others, meet the minimum recommended energy needs of 2 100 calories.
Dzaleka Refugee Camp holds about 52 678 refugees and asylum seekers, and according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the camp receives an average of 300 new arrivals per month.
Of this figure, 62 percent are from the Democratic Republic of Congo.