Unwelcome Visitors In Malawi
African Church Information Service
January 8, 2001
Malawi is fast becoming a den of violent criminals who upon entry
into the country masquerade as refugees, many law abiding
citizens now fear.
The government admits that some people who claim to be
refugees when crossing into Malawi are notorious criminals in their
respective countries who avoid to face justice for the crimes they
Chief Immigration Officer Hudson Mleme acknowledged in an
interview that some criminals enter Malawi as refugees especially
those coming from the war-torn Great Lakes states. But the
government cannot close borders to bar people who say they are
fleeing from war from seeking refuge, he stressed.
He says Malawi being a signatory to the Geneva Convention, was
under an obligation not to expel any immigrant who claims to be
fleeing persecution from mother country.
"If the Department of Immigration was given the mandate to clear
everyone coming into the country right at the border, problems of
the influx of illegal immigrants would be put out of question. With
funds permitting, deportation could be done immediately before
one disappears," said Mleme.
The immigration chief explained that under the current laws,
immigrants identified as asylum seekers are welcomed with open
hands into the country and asked to report to a committee at any
other convenient time for an interview.
The refugees are always allowed to enter the country. In many
cases, there is no follow-up to their cases. As for the asylum
seekers, it is up to them to decide whether to leave the country or
The Department of Disaster and Preparedness, Relief and
Rehabilitation says it is the responsibility of the immigration
department to make follow-ups on the various categories of
But immigration officials toss the responsibility to the United
Nations High Commission for Refugees saying the UN agency is
responsible for the welfare of refugees.
UNHCR head of liaison in Malawi, Michael Owor, said refugees are
human beings displaced from their countries because of war,
among other factors, and that they must not be denied refugee
status for them to live a normal life just because they are being
suspected to be criminals.
Most organisations dealing with refugees often complain that on
human rights grounds screening of refugees could be ambiguous
and offensive especially when trying to distinguish a genuine case
from other cases.
The level of freedom accorded to more than 4,000 asylum seekers
and refugees in Malawi is being abused. This has not amused the
authorities and the refugees alike. They are seriously considering
taking serious action on the development.
To prove to be a genuine refugee, one has to fulfil "refugee
status" requirements, Dzaleka Refugee Camp administrator,
Winston Nawanga, said. He explained that wherever the refugees
go they move with such information and anyone claiming to be a
refugee must therefore produce a document in support.
Nawanga said some refugees "transfer their problems from their
countries to where they have been granted asylum". He noted that
keeping together people from different countries who are on war is
not easy and safe.
"Some refugees transfer problems from their homes to the camp.
For instance, a Rwandese would not cope well with a Burundian.
The same situation is with the others," Nawanga stressed.
He acknowledged that there were some illegal immigrants who
enter Malawi through some illegal routes and involve themselves
in criminal activities. When they are cornered they claim to be
refugees. He said such are the types of aliens tarnishing the
image of others.
Nawanga, however, pointed out that refugees in Malawi were
allowed to go out to do any kind of business as long as they
reported back to the relevant authorities within a period of 14
Critics say such freedom of movement of refugees is the
concession that facilitates some of them especially those who were
soldiers in their countries to commit violent offences such as
armed robbery, vehicle hijacks and general theft. When they are
successful in the criminal acts they flee the country.
Leaders of refugees from war-torn countries residing at Dzaleka
Refugee Camp in central Malawi blame "economic immigrants"
from their countries who are tarnishing their images.
Leader of the Sudanese at the camp James Deng also took
exception with "economic immigrants", saying it was very
unfortunate to pretend to be refugees when one was only seeking
"We did not choose to be refugees. It was all due to uncontrolled
situation which forced us to be in this kind of situation," regrets
leader of the Congolese, Kambining Jones.
Many Malawians are worried with the influx of especially illegal
immigrants who have taken over most of the shops in Malawi's
capital, Lilongwe. The illegal immigrants are blamed for the high
rate of crime especially armed robberies and car hijacking.
Citizens are urging the government to follow the example of South
Africa immigration authorities where illegal immigrants are
deported within a short period of time upon discovery.
The immigration department is at the centre of criticisms over the
influx of illegal immigrants. Many critics say is supposed to carry
out the mopping out campaigns on weekly basis including
thorough checking of all illegal border routes where they suspect
the illegal immigrants pass.
Mr. Kennedy Mughogho of Department of Disaster Preparedness,
Relief and Rehabilitation says immigration authorities should
establish in- transit facilities for initial screening right at the border
so that those who do not qualify as asylum seekers should be sent
back immediately without involving other stakeholders.
Dzaleka Refugee Camp in central Malawi has 204 Somalis, 1105
Congolese, 599 Burundians, nine Sudanese, six Eritreans, while
Uganda, Angola, Comoros and Ethiopia have one each. In all
there are 3,797 refugees.
Reported by Brian Ligomeka in Blantyre
Malawi to Ratify SADC Trade Protocol February
Panafrican News Agency
January 8, 2001
Malawi will in February ratify the Southern Africa Development
Community or SADC trade protocol, a senior trade official has
Geofrey Mkandawire, Malawi's director of commerce, said the
move will make the country eligible for a preferential regional trade
arrangement within the 14-member economic bloc.
"Malawi is currently processing the instrument of ratification which
will be deposited with the SADC secretariat before the end of
February," he added.
At least five SADC members - South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland,
Botswana and Mauritius - have already ratified the protocol,
according to Mkandawire.
He said if Malawi had ratified the protocol by 1 September 2000,
its import duty would have been reduced by 10 percent by now.
"The 10 percent reduction is an aggregate figure for products
regarded as least sensitive," he said. Goods are labelled under
three categories - least sensitive, sensitive and most sensitive.
Meanwhile, SADC trade ministers are expected to converge in
South Africa February to iron out unresolved issues surrounding
the proposed trade protocol.