The United Nations (UN) Refugee Agency, UNHCR, has ordered Malawi government to grant asylum to Mozambican refugees.
The agency made the call in a statement released on Thursday following pressure from Malawi and Mozambique for the refugees to return to their home country.
Over 5,800 refugees have settled in Kapise village, Mwanza district, some 100 kilometres south of Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe after fleeing violence and tension caused by clashes between Mozambican government forces and elements of the opposition.
According to UNHCR, the number of refugees coming to Malawi is increasing and more than 6,000 have arrived in the country since mid-December. The new arrivals have settled at Kapise camp while others are scattered throughout the neighbouring district of Chikwawa.
The agency says it has expressed concern directly to Malawi government that the right to seek asylum and the principle of voluntary repatriation, as enshrined in the 1951 UN and 1969 Organization of African Union (OAU) conventions on refugees should not be compromised.
Malawi has also been reminded of its international obligations toward refugees and asylum seekers and the principles of voluntary return.
“UNHCR calls upon all parties to respect the humanitarian nature of the influx of Mozambicans into Malawi,” the refugee agency said in its press release.
According to UNHCR, government has decided that the new arrivals should remain in Kapise in the hope that fighting will cease soon and they can return to Mozambique. Malawi has also allocated additional land to accommodate new arrivals.
But Kapise village, which initially had 150 families, is now crowded and UNHCR is working on plans to decongest the settlement, with more land required to accommodate the growing number of new arrivals.
“We have appealed to the government to identify a new site further away from the border and with adequate land to enable the decongestion of Kapise,” the UNHCR statement said.
UNHCR and its partners are helping the Malawi government to provide protection and humanitarian assistance to the Mozambicans. After boosting its registration capacity, UNHCR has registered all of the new arrivals in Kapise, with the figure currently standing at 6,013, mostly women and children.
The World Food Programme (WFP) has distributed food rations sufficient for two months to all of the families in Kapise. WFP have also given the families plastic sheeting, sleeping mats, mosquito nets, blankets, kitchen sets, tarpaulins and hygiene items.