Expert condemns MLS’s silence on refuge relocation exercise

Patrick Mpaka Malaw

…MLS wants MHRC to probe alleged human rights violations

The Malawi Law Society (MLS) has been condemned and labelled as “hypocritical” for being silent on the relocation of refugees and asylum seekers to Dzaleka Refugees Camp in Dowa.

Malawi Government gave an ultimatum to refugees and asylum seekers in rural areas to relocate to Dzaleka by 30 November, 2022 while refugees in urban centres were advised to relocate by 1 February, 2023 and then set final dates from 1 to 15 April 2023.

At the expiry of the ultimatum, government through the Ministry of Homeland Security with assistance from the Malawi Police Service and the Department of Immigration and Citizenship Services, commenced a relocation exercise of refugees and asylum seekers back to Dzaleka Refugee Camp.

The relocation exercise which targets 8,000 refugees and asylum seekers, received heavy criticism from the public with various groups calling for suspension of the exercise saying it is a violation of human rights and that it has been marred by criminal acts.

However, MLS which is also mandated to protect and assist the public in matters ancillary or incidental to the law, has been silent on the matter, a development which has irked one of renowned human rights law practitioner, Alexious Kamangila.

In several Facebook posts, Kamangila said it is very surprising and worrisome that after four months of the relocation exercise, the Law Society has shut its mouth and given a deaf ear to a situation which needed its intervention.

“Within 4 months of a de facto hiatus on Access to Justice on “Refugees”, where is MLS action on that? Is the Refugee issue a none issue to that extent??? Is MLS a Xenophobic grouping perhaps?

“Why am finding it problematic to remain a member of MLS is because we really seem to be okay, not only with violations of human rights, but really even sheer Xenophobic acts by Zikhale Ng’oma and his Ministry and the entire Government of Malawi. How do you expect me to feel being a member of MLS?” bemoaned Kamangila on his Facebook page post.

He wondered why it only took MLS few hours to write an eight-paged memo objecting the proposed court filing fees hike by the Malawi Judiciary, when it is failing to protect the rights of refugees and asylum seekers in Malawi.

The law lecture at the University of Malawi, who manages Legal Clinics aiming advancing social justice through improving legal literacy and legal representation, further labelled MLS as “hypocritical” saying it has now stopped fighting for rights of people and it is allowing the Malawi Government to break the laws.

“MLS is hypocritical, the leadership of MLS is allowing the State to break the Law willy nilly and it begins with the President himself, President of MLS. Invani pempho lathu, kulira kwathu kumveke kwainu,” reads another part of his post.

Kamangila has further encouraged Senior Counsel in the country to convince the Malawi Law Society on the need to address what he called “state’s criminality” on refugees and asylum seekers in the country.

“I call upon all Senior Counsel to listen to my cry and help not me, but the Refugees, Asylum Seekers, Investors, Naturalized Citizens etc. SENIOR COUNSEL I beg, move MLS Exco to address the State’s Criminality against brothers and sisters of Burundian and Rwanda origin,” requested Kamangila in the Facebook post.

The legal practitioner has also questioned the systematic way of targeting refugees and asylum seekers from Burundi and Rwanda when Indian, European, Pakistanis, Zambian immigrants have spread themselves all over the country.

However, in an interview with Malawi24, MLS Chairperson Patrick Mpaka said it is unfortunate that their member (Kamangila) has taken that approach in the public space to such a serious and complex legal issue.

On MLS’s position on refugees relocation exercise and the human rights violation allegations, Mpaka said the society is very much committed to promoting clinical review of the facts surrounding such allegations of human rights violations.

“As an institution versed in public interest protection under the law, we are not oblivious to the matter as is being suggested in that post. We probably just have a different approach from social media grandstanding on the matter.

“We consider this a serious and complex constitutional but well guided legal matter given that the recent refugee relocation question and its legality is in fact currently pending before the High Court at the instance of over 100 refugees and asylum seekers in a Judicial Review case before Hon Judge Msisha after an earlier similar question was resolved before another High Court Judge Mambulasa in 2021.

“Our approach in contributing to ameliorating the allegations of human rights violations in the implementation of the legal framework is to avoid generalization but to promote clinical review of the facts sorrounding these allegations of human rights violations,” Mpaka told Malawi24.

He further proposed that Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) should probe the alleged human rights violations that have marred the relocation exercise of refugees and asylum seekers and said the society will as well work with other CSOs.

“We prefer therefore working with constitutional bodies charged with such responsibility and we are in touch with the Malawi Human Rights Commission and one of the CSOs in trying to contribute to finding responsible ways of balancing the many legal frameworks at play on the matter given it’s long history,” he added.