Migration is a universal phenomenon. People leave their countries for other countries for various reasons. Poor political leadership is one of the causes. It has triggered war or poverty, forcing people to leave in search of peace or good life. However, as they travel to the preferred country, they meet hurdles on the way. One of them is to be declared an illegal immigrant if they travel without documents.
It is sad to learn that more than 400 illegal immigrants are languishing in the notorious Malawi prisons. These illegal immigrants are coming from Ethiopia, DR Congo, Somalia and Sudan and are languishing in prisons after being arrested in transit to South Africa. Some immigrants such as those from DR Congo and Somalia are actually running away from civil war.
Our police service should work with a lot of common sense when dealing with illegal immigrants. How can a person who is fleeing war be expected to have documents? If these immigrants are coming from Somali or Sudan, then they must have passed through Kenya and Tanzania. Those from DR Congo they must have entered through Zambia or Tanzania. How have they travelled in these countries without papers? It is possible that the authorities in these countries might have let them through on humanitarian grounds.
Italy, Greece, Portugal and Spain are some of the European countries that have borne the brunt of receiving thousands of illegal immigrants from West Africa, North Africa and the Middle East fleeing civil war or poverty. But they do not throw them in prison. Let us treat illegal immigrants humanely and be sympathetic to their plight. Imagine someone running away from war only to end up in prison in another country. These illegal immigrants should be treated as people first; travel documents should come second. Just think of Malawians who were fleeing xenophobic attacks in South Africa in April this year. They had no time to fetch their documents or possessions, but the host government assisted them by providing a place of safety.
It is unacceptable and improper to treat illegal immigrants as if they are criminals. They should not be sent to prison as if they have been tried and convicted by the court. The assertion that they are a security risk is unfounded and sounds xenophobic.
While Malawi may not have a detention centre, government should have made a makeshift centre to keep them and not in prison. One has in mind the Dzaleka refugee camp or any secure place where their repatriation could be processed as soon as possible. Certainly, government should have come up with a solution to the problem. Even Malawians who are arrested in South Africa as illegal immigrants are not sent to prison, but Lindela Repatriation Centre.
In a country where there are no specialised NGOs that deal with migration and government seems not to care much, illegal immigrants may rot in prison. However, care should be taken not to send them back to their war-torn countries. It will show lack of logic and seriousness. If anything, government should just let them free.