Malawi to reopen former camp, as Mozambique refugee numbers grow

Malawi to reopen former camp, as Mozambique refugee numbers grow

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Leo Dobbs to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 15 March 2016, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR welcomes a decision by the Malawian government to reopen a former refugee camp to help cope with the rising numbers of people fleeing Mozambique. Close to 10,000 refugees have now been registered in southern Malawi.

Most of the new arrivals, who have been crossing to Malawi since mid-December, are in a single village, Kapise, about 100 kilometres south of Malawi's capital, Lilongwe. Others are scattered throughout the neighbouring district of Chikwawa. To date, 9,600 people have been registered by UNHCR staff and government workers, but others are waiting to be registered and the total including these is almost 11,500.

Daily arrival rates in Malawi have been growing over the past month. From around 130 people a day before late February we are now seeing around 250 people every day in Kapise. Mozambicans who arrived earlier in the year spoke of having fled deadly attacks on their villages. More recent arrivals have said they were fleeing out of fear of clashes this month between Government forces and RENAMO, the main opposition group, which wants to take control of six northern provinces (Manica, Sofala, Tete, Zambezia, Nampula and Niassa).

The Malawi Government decision was announced on Friday and involves reopening Luwani refugee camp, where basic services and security can be better guaranteed. While Kapise is just five kilometres from the border, Luwani is some 65 kilometres inside Malawi.

Luwani camp previously hosted Mozambican refugees during the 1977-1992 civil war and was finally closed in 2007. Preparations are under way for the move, which UNHCR hopes to start shortly. Luwani has more than 160 hectares of space, including forest. Refugees will have better facilities and services there, including health, education, water and protection. And, importantly, it will be safer. UNHCR appreciates Malawi's generosity in hosting so many people. We also reiterate the importance of keeping doors open to people fleeing danger.

Several partners, including UNICEF, WFP and MSF, are providing essential services in Kapise, including water boreholes, food and health care. This has helped to improve, but conditions generally remain tough and in future it will be used mainly as a transit camp.

Lack of funding for UNHCR and others is a problem. We need US$1.8 million to meet immediate needs, but more will be needed to cope with the growing number of arrivals. Malawi already hosts some 25,000 refugees, mostly from the Great Lakes region and the Horn of Africa, in a camp about 50 kilometres from Lilongwe - Dzaleka camp - which is full to capacity. Food rations have been cut to 50 per cent since October and resources to assist refugees are limited.

For further information, please contact:

  • In Pretoria, Tina Ghelli on mobile +27 82 7704189
  • In Malawi, Kelvin Shimoh on mobile +265 99 782 4204
  • In Geneva, Leo Dobbs on mobile +41 79 883 6347