Food crisis hits refugees

As more refugees stream into Malawi, which is already home to 40 000 refugees and asylum seekers, a food crisis has emerged that has seen them receiving only half of their standard monthly rations.

World Food Programme (WFP) Malawi country representative Benoit Thiry said in a written response yesterday his organisation has sent a letter of appeal for funding from donors to address the dire situation.

He said: “If new funding does not come forth, the refugees and asylum seekers will continue to receive half rations for now. But from October 2019, WFP will not be able to provide beans and cooking oils.

Thiry: The situation is critial

“Worse still, after December 2019, WFP will no longer be able to provide the vulnerable population with any maize. The situation is critical and we appeal to all the development partners to support refugees in Malawi.”

WFP issued a press statement on August 6 2019 titled ‘Food Situation Worsens for Refugees in Malawi; Urgent Support Required,’ appealing for $1.7 million (about K1.3 billion) to address the crisis that has resulted from dwindling donor support to the programme over the past year.

Reads the statement in part: “The situation has been triggered by the flow of refugees into Malawi for more than two decades following political instability and social unrest mainly in some parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo [DRC] and in Burundi.  From January to July 2019 alone, about 2 000 new arrivals have been registered.”

It added that in May this year, the low funding forced the WFP to reduce by half the standard monthly rations the refugees and asylum seekers were receiving of maize (13.5 kg), pulses (1.5 kg), fortified vegetable oil (0.75 kg) and super cereal with sugar (1.5kg) per person.

Currently, Malawi hosts over 40 000 refugees and 5 689 new asylum seekers, mainly from DRC, according to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHRC), a tripartite partner—with the Malawi Government and the WFP—in handling the refugees.

A baseline survey on Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) conducted in June 2019 showed that women and girls opt to engage in survival and transactional sex in exchange for in-kind and monetary assistance.  Officials fear that a reduction in rations may heighten this risk for women and girls.

Contacted for his response, secretary for Homeland Security and Commissioner for Refugees in Malawi Sam Madula said he would respond after formally receiving the WFP press statement.

Meanwhile, United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) Malawi representative Monique Ekoko said the WFP press statement captured the dire situation well on the challenges facing the refugees in Malawi.

She hoped donors and other well-wishers would provide a significant response towards normalising life for the refugees, lamenting that the situation whereby female refugees have had to trade sex for food is pathetic and must be stopped. “We have already had one or two meetings with our stakeholders on the need for a response,” she stated.

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