UNHCR begins relocating Mozambican asylum-seekers in Malawi
GENEVA, April 15 (UNHCR) - A major UNHCR-run relocation operation aimed at improving living conditions for nearly 10,000 Mozambican asylum-seekers began in southern Malawi on Friday, the UN Refugee Agency said.
A first group of 81 asylum-seekers left Nsanje district early on Friday (April 15) on two buses to make the 320-kilometre journey to Luwani in the country's southeast. On arrival, they will stay at a transit centre for up to two days until they are provided with a plot of land, food, shelter materials and household items.
Last month, the Government of Malawi authorised UNHCR to relocate the Mozambican asylum-seekers to a former camp at Luwani that has been re-opened for this purpose. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has partnered with the UNHCR to provide logistical support.
The majority of the Mozambican asylum-seekers, nearly 10,000, have so far been living in overcrowded conditions in an area about 100-kilometres south of the capital Lilongwe. Most are in the village of Kapise, close to the border with Mozambique, where heavy rains are at present making roads impassable.
"In response, UNHCR and the Government of Malawi agreed that the transfer to Luwani would start with families located in the district of Nsanje," UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler told a news briefing in Geneva. "When the rains stop, the condition of the road to Kapise is expected to improve enough to allow relocations from there to begin next week. Relocation of the 800 asylum-seekers from nearby Chikwawa will then follow," he added.
Spindler said UNHCR had conducted rapid assessments in Ntcheu, Dedza and Nsanje districts last week to determine the situation of new Mozambican arrivals. In Nsanje, staff have registered asylum-seekers and provided them with food and other aid. Another assessment will be carried out in Chikwawa in coming days during which more asylum-seekers will be registered for the relocation to Luwani.
UNHCR has over the past three weeks conducted intention surveys in all the transit centres. Spindler stressed that a majority of the Mozambican asylum-seekers have expressed willingness to be relocated to Luwani. The few families in Kapise that prefer not to relocate, will continue to receive information on Luwani, where there is more land and better access to services.
The relocation will be conducted in a phased manner over a period of six to eight weeks, with about 200 to 500 asylum-seekers scheduled to be relocated during the first convoy from Kapise. After this, convoys will be moving every other day.
Since last December, Malawi has seen an increase in new arrivals from Mozambique, peaking at more than 250 people per day in early March. "The numbers have since decreased significantly, but those who have managed to cross have informed UNHCR that they are turning to alternate routes due to increased military presence along the border," Spindler said, adding: "UNHCR calls upon all actors to respect the right to seek asylum."
Luwani camp previously hosted Mozambican refugees during the 1977-1992 civil war and was finally closed in 2007. It has more than 160 hectares of land. Asylum-seekers will have better facilities and services there, including health, education, water, protection and will be involved in self-reliance activities like agriculture.
UNHCR, together with various partners, including UNICEF, WFP, IOM, UN Women, MSF, Plan International, Acción Contra el Hambre-Spain, Plan International, Oxfam, World Vision, Norwegian Church Aid, and Participatory Rural Development Organisation (PRDO) are providing essential services in Kapise, including water and sanitation, food, shelter and health care, and psycho-social support. This assistance by UNHCR and partners will continue in Luwani.
Malawi already hosts some 25,000 refugees and asylum-seekers mostly from the Great Lakes region and the Horn of Africa in Dzaleka camp located some 35 kilometres from Lilongwe. This camp is already stretched to capacity, with severely limited resources to assist refugees.