World Refugee Survey 2009: Malawi
Malawi hosted around 11,600 refugees at the end of 2008, mostly from Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Burundi.
During 2008, police arrested hundreds of refugees for leaving Dzaleka camp, generally holding them for a week before returning them to the camp. A ruling of Malawi’s high court held that the Government could force all refugees to reside in the camp, and during the year authorities closed more than 50 shops operated by refugees and forced their owners back to the camp.
During the year, robbers killed two refugees and broke the arm of a third. Malawi arrested, prosecuted, and convicted the criminals.
In February, police arrested nearly 60 Somali asylum seekers who had left Dzaleka camp and returned them to the camp.
In April, Police stopped about 175 Somali refugees registered at Dzaleka refugee camp at a roadblock, and several days later turned them over to the immigration department.
In September, police captured nearly 150 Ethiopians who fled from Dzaleka camp, who claimed that lack of food and shelter drove them to flee the camp. Immigration officials returned them to Dzleka.
In December, the Government deadline for refugees living in urban areas to return to Dzaleka passed.
Law and Policy
UNHCR monitors border posts to ensure no refugees or asylum seekers are forcibly returned.
Malawi is party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (1951 Convention) and the 1969 Convention governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa. It maintains reservations to articles 7, 13, 15, 17, 19, 22, 24, 26, and 34 of the 1951 Convention.
Malawi’s Refugees Act establishes an inter-ministerial Refugee Committee, which makes decisions on refugee status based on the recommendations of the Refugee Status Determination Unit (RSD Unit), which interviews applicants. UNHCR monitors the RSD Unit, and provides advice and support to the Refugee Committee. Rejected applicants can appeal directly to the minister in charge of refugees within 14 days, whose decision is final.
Detention/Access to Courts
Malawi regularly detains refugees for short periods of time if they are caught leaving Dzakela camp. UNHCR intervenes when it is aware of a refugee’s detention. Refugees held on criminal charges are able to hire lawyers to represent themselves or obtain free representation from the Legal Aid Department.
Refugees and asylum seekers over age 18 are entitled to refugee or asylum seeker identity cards, although nearly half did not hold them as of 2008 because the printer in Lilongwe broke down and cards had to be printed in South Africa. Officials generally accept the cards as valid.
Refugees can attempt to vindicate their rights in court, although in 2008 the Government successfully defended its restrictive encampment policy before the High Court.
Freedom of Movement and Residence
Per a 2008 court decision upholding the Government’s policy, all refugees and asylum seekers in Malawi must reside in Dzaleka camp.
Refugees can obtain UN Convention travel documents by applying to UNHCR, which verifies the identity of the applicant and refers the request to Malawi’s immigration department.
Right to Earn a Livelihood
Refugees must obtain Temporary Employment Permits to work for wages legally, but are generally unable to do so because of the high cost of the permits and the restrictions on their residence. Refugees can run businesses legally, although they must do so in Dzaleka camp.
Public Relief and Education UNHCR and the World Food Programme provide rations and non-food items to refugees in Dzaleka camp. UNHCR and the Government jointly fund a health clinic in the camp that serves refugees and the surrounding community.
Jesuit Refugee Services operates one primary and one secondary school in the camp, serving both refugees and locals.