Traditional leaders surrounding Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Dowa have highlighted deepening social and economic inequalities between refugees and host communities as some of the factors fuelling tension and hatred between refugees and their hosts.
Group Village Head (GVH) Chimtengo of Traditional Authority Mkukula has since appealed to the Government of Malawi and its partners to urgently address the trigger factors in order to end the rivalry.
Chimtengo made the call on Wednesday during an engagement with chiefs under Traditional Authorities (T/A) Mkukula and Msakambewa.
The Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) organized the engagement with financial support from the Canadian Embassy to foster the development of grassroots advocacy leaders with the refugee and host communities.
Chimtengo disclosed that since the camp was established in 1994 in response to the genocide in Rwanda, confrontations and tensions have characterized the relationship between refugees and host communities because host communities feel they are being discriminated in the provision of social amenities, such as school, healthcare and access to clean drinking water.
He, among others, disclosed that children of host communities are subjected to tuition fees’ payment when children of the refugees are spared.
“Where parents of Malawian children cannot afford the fees, they are forced to drop out school thereby creating room for a wider economic inequality between refugees and hosts. And how do you think host communities can be receptive towards refugees in that environment?” he asked.
While corroborating Chimtengo’s sentiments, Village Head Madzi of Traditional Authority Msakambewa lamented the rise in criminal activities in and outside the camp.
Madzi said while they remained committed to mobilizing their subjects to embrace and live in harmony with the refugees and asylum seekers, they would be grateful to the authority to address factors that created the rivalry between the two parties.
The camp Chief Security Officer, Amos Musi, admitted that the rise in population at the camp has brought about security breakdown both inside and outside the camp.
Musi attributed the problem to the inadequacy of the law enforcers at Dzaleka Police Unit.
“The police-people ratio is very high. We requested the ministry to deploy more officers to the camp, but we were told there is shortage of staff elsewhere,” he said.
In his remarks, CCJP National Coordinator Boniface Chibwana said the Commission is worried with the simmering rivalry between host communities and refugees and asylum seekers, fearing it can degenerate into fighting.
Chibwana emphasized that considering the negative impacts to the local population that have resulted from hosting the refugee influx, it is important to find ways of improving the situation for both the Malawians and their refugee counterparts.
He said there is a need to identify strategies that would enable refugees to contribute to the development of host community, stressing that this is the only way they can be treated and regarded as equal members of the local community.
“And that is why we sourced 50,000 Canadian dollars for the implementation of Umodzi (Peace Building and Advocacy) Project whose purpose is to provide a platform for dialogue to enhance social-cohesion and peace building. We want to increase public and stakeholder awareness about the human rights issues and challenges faced by refugees and asylum seekers,” he said.
He also disclosed that the project will conduct evidence-based advocacy on policy and legal reform.
“Ultimately, our interventions aim to establish and strengthen community platforms for engagement with Dzaleka, strengthen dispute resolution skills for community leaders and capacity building for traditional and religious leaders. We will also raise community awareness on rights and responsibility of refugees,” he said.
He said the project will also collect evidence for policy, strategic and legal reform, advocate for legal reform and provide a platform for mutually beneficial endeavors between the camp and community.
Chibwana stressed that it is high time Malawi repealed the 1989 Refuge Act to pave the way for local integration, saying this will address the problem of hatred targeted at refugees.
“We need to live in harmony. There is a lot that refugees offer to the Malawian economy. We need to do away with encampment law,” he said.