BY DR KONDWANI NANKHUMWA
In keeping with its April 15, 2023 deadline for all refugees residing in Malawi to relocate back to Dzaleka Refugee Camp, the Malawi Government, through Malawi Police Service, is rounding up refugees, including arresting them, for non-compliance.
It is clear this operation has polarized opinions among individuals and groups across the country. The Malawi Government contends that the operation is in compliance with international protocols in line with Articles: 7, 13, 15, 17, 19, 22, 24, 26 and 34 of the UN Convention relating to the status of refugees.
On May 22, 2023, Chairpersons of Parliamentary Committees on Defense and Security, International Relations and Trade and Industry issued a joint statement supporting the operation, saying the Malawi Government was merely acting according to laws governing the hosting of refugees.
However, there are also other individuals and groups in the country, including some UN agencies, foreign diplomats and local human rights institutions that have urged the government to rethink its position on forcibly repatriating the refugees to Dzaleka Refugee Csmp.
They argue that it is an over-kill and that the Malawi Government should not have gone that far; that the operation is ill-timed; and that the way it is being carried out is tantamount to violation of human rights.
They further argue that although Malawi is a signatory to international conventions on refugees, those charters ought to be contextualized to be in tandem with national requirements to ensure they serve the greater good for the greatest number of Malawians. Critics of this operation also feel it does not make much economic sense and that it fails on the cost benefit matrix to the larger economy.
They also feel the government is only just nibbling on the wrong end of the rope; that it is deliberately carrying out the operation in order to deflect attention from its service delivery failures.
Indeed, those against the operation say that images and stories that are most dehumanizing are those of Malawians being bundled into police vehicles and being sent to prison for being economic immigrants in other countries. That sights of our loved ones fleeing in buses from xenophobic attacks by citizens of other countries diminish the human spirit. They argue that the last thing we must avoid as a country, therefore, is to be perpetrators of such phobias against citizens of other countries.
They also say rounding up of refugees, including women and children, and putting them in prison will not help to address the smuggling and the security situation on our borders, and that we need to explore smart ways of fixing that problem as a country.
Resolving the impasse
As Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, I have followed arguments from both sides with keen interest. My humble conclusion is that both sides to this impasse have very valid points.
Indeed, the law is the ‘floor’, they say, and it is important that Malawi is not an island. As a nation, we ought to abide by international treaties to ensure that we are not isolated, and that we are playing our rightful role on the global geopolitical profile.
However, the Malawi Government should also realize that there is always a human face to every situation, including in the application of the ‘law’.
Personally, I am well aware of some countries in the world, including the United States, Britain, France, and South Africa, that have taken off economically due to the massive contribution of so called ‘economic immigrants’ to the growth of their economies.
As Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, I firmly believe this refugees impasse is negatively impacting Malawi’s social and economic progress. It is for this reason that I propose that we convene an inclusive, broad and participatory two-day ‘National Dialogue’ to address this situation in such a way that we craft a win-win situation for Malawians as well as for our refugee friends. I strongly believe this is a situation that can be resolved through dialogue and listening to one another as planetary citizens with a purpose for humanity.
My humble proposition is that the National Dialogue should attempt to borrow a page from other countries and try to replicate best practices from organizations that have done it before. There are so many around the world, and UNHCR is one of them. UNHCR is well represented here in Malawi.
Participants to the proposed two-day National Dialogue on the relocation of refugees will be all stakeholders, including officials from the Malawi Government, Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC), the Judiciary, the donor and diplomatic community, politicians and Members of Parliament (MPs), religious and traditional leaders, the academia, the civil society, Malawi Law Society, and representatives of the refugee community in Malawi, among others. The participants will be formally invited to engage in an honest and meaningful dialogue and help iron out differences and reach a win-win conclusion.
Dialogue, according to Jacobs (1989), is a special form of contact that becomes the ground for deepened awareness and self-realization. In Malawi’s context, I strongly believe that by the end of the two-day National Dialogue, all parties will have reached a conclusion that situates them in their rightful positions; where they will be able to contribute to the positive improvement of the welfare of all individuals as well as towards the development of our beloved nation.
Honourable Dr. Kondwani Nankhumwa, MP
LEADER OF OPPOSITION IN PARLIAMENT
29th May, 2023