Malawi contemplates deporting refugees

Blantyre- Malawi (PANA) -- The Malawi government is considering deporting at least 40 refugees who entered the country as asylum seekers but ended up operating large-scale businesses in the capital, Lilongwe.
Commissioner of Disaster Preparedness, Relief and Rehabilitation Lucius Chikuni said he was shocked to learn that the group was operating minibus businesses in the capital whereas they were supposed to be camped at Dzaleka Refugee Camp, some 60 km outside Lilongwe.
Chikuni, who along with President Bakili Muluzi received an unsigned death threat from refugees at the camp for allegedly mistreating them, said Malawi's 1989 Refugee Act states that refugees should be allowed to operate small-scale business inside refugee camps and not just anyhow.
He said any refugee operating any type of business outside designated areas was clearly breaking the law of the country and government reserves the right to take appropriate action against them, including deportation.
Reacting, UN High Commissioner for Refugees representative in Malawi Michael Owor said the UNHCR appreciates government reasons for restricting refugee business to the camps because that guarantees refugees their own safety.
Owor nonetheless said deporting the refugees would be violating UN refugee protocols Malawi has ratified.
However, police have since instituted investigations into how 40 refugees managed to acquire license to operate minibuses.
Road Traffic Commissioner Jomo Mkandawire said his department had unearthed a racket where rich refugees register minibuses in the names of indigenous Malawian fronts.
Malawi is currently hosting at least 6, 000 refugees and asylum seekers mainly from DR Congo, Angola, Somalia, Burundi, Rwanda, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Sudan.
Of late the country has been toughening its stand on refugees.
Last year at least 40 asylum seekers from Eritrea who found themselves in Malawi on fake visas were forcefully deported back to Addis Ababa.
One Eritrean died in the fracas, sparking a diplomatic row between Asmara and Lilongwe.
Over the Easter weekend some 32 Congolese refugee were detained for entering Malawi without valid documents.
They are still in detention pending the outcome of negotiations between the Malawi government and the UNHCR.

21 april 2001 13:34:00

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