Of refugees, durable solutions

Recently, the media was awash with news of xenophobic attacks on asylum seekers and refugees at Mponela Trading Centre in Dowa District.   This is worrisome and if anything, xenophobic attacks, dent the warm heartedness Malawi is bestowed with. They are to be condemned to the highest degree and sense.

According to a petition of local traders at Mponela entitled ‘Reclaiming our lost glory’; their argument was that the Burundian and Rwandese asylum seekers and refugees at Mponela are taking over businesses belonging to locals. This culminated into chaotic scenes of violence, looting and emotional stress on Refugees and asylum seekers at Mponela and elsewhere.

For starters, Malawi has about 12 000 asylum seekers and refugees from the Great Lakes Region of Burundi, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo and also from the horn of Africa comprising Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea with small pockets of Sudanese, Ugandans and Kenyans.

A good number of them reside at Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Dowa District and some are in urban areas, for those in the camp; UNHCR, the Government of Malawi and a number of implementing partners provide them with services such as health, education, shelter, food etc. Refugees do not receive any money from UNHCR, the government or any service providers to start business; rather they get it from colleagues, relatives and prudently use it to scale up their business.

According to Malawi legislation, refugees are free to conduct businesses in a place of choice as long as they get proper business permits, of which a good number of them do have and attacking them only signifies malice, jealous and ill-wish.

For the record, an average stay in a refugee camp is 18 years, which is a long time, but can one remain an asylum seeker or a refugee for the rest of their lives?

Currently, UNHCR and Malawi Government have three durable solutions for refugees and asylum seekers alike; these are resettlement, voluntary repatriation and local integration. For now, it is only resettlement and voluntary repatriation that have worked. Under the resettlement programme, refugees go to a third country rather than their country of origin or host nation .Over the past years, a good number of refugees have been resettled in Norway, Finland , Canada , Australia , USA and other countries in Europe.

Honestly, I am not a proponent of the resettlement programme as it demands one to denounce their citizenship and this, results in identity crisis and defies peace- building and rebuilding of nations conflict. Resettlement of refugees is therefore not a durable solution.

With voluntary repatriation, refugees go back to their homeland if convinced of their security and well-being, to me, this is a durable solution as it rebuilds nations and upholds human, dignity and fosters peace-building. UNHCR and the Government of Malawi facilitated the voluntary repatriation of Mozambicans two decades ago and lately some Burundians left to their respective countries.

In the event of failure of the resettlement programme and voluntary repatriation ,local integration should take centre stage, by this, it means those who cannot be resettled and go back to their countries should be nationalised and attain Malawi citizenship.

There are lucrative gains with local integration. We will learn from our colleagues’ business skills and conservational farming practices that are prevalent in the Great Lakes Region. We will have a good number of French teachers from Chitipa to Nsanje, in the age of globalisation; Malawi will have French as a third language.

Therefore, I strongly urge Malawi and UNHCR to seriously consider local integration as a durable solution to the small number of refugees and asylum seekers in Malawi. We stand to benefit! 

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