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  • Christine Chumbler
    Sep 26, 2003
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      Steady Stream of Asylum Seekers From Great Lakes

      UN Integrated Regional Information Networks

      September 25, 2003
      Posted to the web September 25, 2003

      Johannesburg

      Malawi is still experiencing a constant stream of people seeking refuge
      from the strife-torn Great Lakes region, Disaster Relief and
      Preparedness Commissioner Lucius Chikuni told IRIN.

      However, he said the country was well prepared for the steady stream of
      people seeking asylum in Malawi.


      "Between 1994 and 1997 we had 5,000 refugees, and it has just been a
      steady increase over the years - and the main reason for that is the
      fact that the strife in the Great lakes region has not subsided,"
      Chikuni said.

      He explained that there were two groups of people seeking refuge in
      Malawi. "Firstly, we have the [officially registered] refugees - right
      now there are 4,000 of them. And then there are 6,000 asylum seekers who
      have not yet been granted refugee status - they are going through the
      determination process, and that involves interviewing each individual
      separately to establish whether indeed that person is running away [with
      a] founded fear of persecution," he said.

      "There's still a lot of fighting there in the DRC [Democratic Republic
      of Congo]. Then, of course, we are also looking at the countries like
      Burundi - there may be peace, but today or tomorrow, something erupts
      again. So it's basically ... that people still feel insecure," Chikuni
      said.

      Malawi itself has just come out of a food security crisis which saw
      millions of its citizens dependent on international food aid to
      survive.

      The country staged a remarkable recovery this year, thanks largely to
      good rains during the planting season, and government and aid agency
      interventions in the form of inputs provision.

      But the influx of refugees and asylum seekers has "not been a problem
      at all", Chikuni said.

      "The refugees are taken care of [by the] international community
      through UNHCR [UN High Commissioner for Refugees], so the presence of
      refugees in a country does not affect the economy of a country at all -
      so the impact is not felt internally by the rest of the community in
      Malawi," he noted.

      The only negative was that "the environment tends to suffer, as they
      have to cut down trees for firewood and other uses. But what we have
      done with UNHCR is introduce afforestation programmes around the camp".

      Chikuni said about "100 to 200 [asylum seekers] come in every month"
      from the Great Lakes region.


      *****

      Funding crisis: Millions face starvation

      Johannesburg

      26 September 2003 12:38


      By as early as next month, millions of people in the southern African
      region will face "massive food shortages" owing to what could only be
      described as a "funding crisis" in the World Food Programme (WFP), the
      United Nations agency warned on Friday.

      "The situation is incredibly serious," said James Morris, WFP executive
      director and special envoy for Southern Africa.

      "In Mozambique, rations for hundreds of thousands of people may have to
      be cut, or they may get nothing at all unless our appeal receives an
      immediate cash injection. It's already too late for food aid to arrive
      from abroad to meet needs in October and November."

      In July, the WFP appealed for US$308-million to fund some 540 000 tons
      of food -- enough to feed 6,5-million people until June of next year in
      Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Zambia, Swaziland, Lesotho and Malawi.

      It received only 24% of that amount. Today the agency has unmet needs
      amounting to US$235-million.

      According to Mike Huggins, WPF spokesperson for southern Africa, the
      funding crisis was compounded by countries like Zimbabwe, which account
      for two thirds of the WFP's appeal for southern Africa.

      "The WFP's appeal for southern Africa is based on an assumption that
      governments will meet commercial import targets. However, in Zimbabwe's
      case, a severe lack of foreign exchange is clearly affecting the
      country's ability to import food.

      "This means that food aid needs may further increase between now and
      the harvest in April 2004," Huggins said.

      He said a memorandum of understanding, which was signed on Thursday by
      the Zimbabwean government and the WFP's country director in Harare, was
      expected to help facilitate the flow of food aid to millions of needy
      beneficiaries.

      However, given the current funding level, the entire region is expected
      to experience food pipeline breaks by early next year, which will
      coincide with the lean season when the general food deficit is the
      greatest.

      And compounding all of these food shortage problems is of course
      southern Africa's HIV/Aids epidemic.

      "HIV/Aids and food shortages go hand in hand in this region," said Mike
      Sackett, WFP regional director for Southern Africa.

      "The best way of supporting people affected by the virus is to ensure
      they are well nourished, but clearly this will not be the case for many
      people over the coming months unless there's an immediate and sustained
      response from donors."

      The WFP, the world's largest humanitarian agency, has been carrying out
      emergency feeding in the region since 2001. It reached its peak of
      operations last year when 10,2-million people received WFP food aid.

      Globally, the WFP fed 72-million people in 82 countries in 2002,
      including most of the world's refugees and internally displaced people.
      - Sapa

      *****

      Church leaders hit out at Mugabe

      President Robert Mugabe's government has been strongly condemned by
      church leaders in Zimbabwe.
      A letter, signed by clergy from 59 Christian denominations, said the
      government was no longer upholding justice and the rule of law.

      "Any government that negates these principles forfeits its God-given
      mandate to rule," the statement said.

      They also called on the authorities to enter into Church-led talks with
      the opposition to defuse tensions.

      Three church bishops are currently trying to get the two parties
      talking, but little progress has been reported.

      "We therefore urge all parties concerned to treat the talks with
      urgency," they said.

      Media

      The statement, which came out of a meeting earlier this month, also
      called for the repeal of what they said were draconian security and
      media laws, and condemned "the inhuman and violent means to right
      historical imbalances in land distribution".

      On Thursday, the authorities charged nine reporters from the banned
      independent newspaper, the Daily News, with breaching the country's
      media laws.

      They are accused of operating without licences.

      Police said that altogether 45 journalists from the paper were likely
      to be charged on similar grounds.

      The authorities closed down the Daily News - Zimbabwe's only
      privately-owned paper - earlier this month, saying it was operating
      without a warrant, after it had refused to register.

      The controversial media laws were introduced following President
      Mugabe's disputed election victory in 2002.
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