UN refugee agency closes camp in Malawi

UN refugee agency closes camp in Malawi

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One of Malawi's two refugee camps has officially closed after the United Nations refugee helped the remaining 660 refugees and asylum seekers there move north to the country's remaining refugee camp, acting in response to a Government request which cited security concerns.

One of Malawi's two refugee camps has officially closed after the United Nations refugee helped the remaining 660 refugees and asylum seekers there move north to the country's remaining refugee camp, acting in response to a Government request which cited security concerns.

“As of today, Luwani Refugee Camp is officially closed,” said Kelvin Sentala, a protection field assistant with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) based in the capital, Lilongwe, who was in charge of the convoy that moved the residents out.

The convoy – 16 trucks of luggage, nine with refugees and asylum seekers, an ambulance, a bus with 27 vulnerable individuals, two pickup trucks and two UNHCR escorting vehicles – was timed to arrive in Dzaleka camp just before dark. The relocated refugees and asylum seekers will live in tents while building their new homes with material provided by UNHCR.

UNHCR provides food on the night of arrival, but the next morning refugees and asylum seekers were expected to use their own food, which was moved along with all their other belongings. The convoy on Thursday included the refugees' 120 goats, 45 pigs and 160 chickens.

The final movement to the recently expanded Dzaleka Refugee Camp, just north of the capital, brings to some 3,000 the number of refugees and asylum seekers who have been moved since the Government decided last April to close Luwani.

The closing of the camp, ordered by the Government on what it termed security grounds, has both positive and negative aspects. The consolidation of the population into one site near the capital will make UNHCR's provision of services easier.

But the agency warned that there will be no land available for agriculture at Dzaleka – unlike Luwani where an irrigation project still under development could have made some refugees self-sufficient.

“The Government of Malawi – in keeping with its reservations to the 1951 Convention regarding freedom of movement, work rights and naturalization – is not allowing refugees to locally integrate,” said Henry Domzalski, UNHCR's acting Representative in Malawi.

With Malawi currently not permitting the local integration of refugees, UNHCR has looked for other solutions. Few have wanted to go home and for those who can neither repatriate nor locally integrate, UNHCR has aided resettlement to third countries. In 2006, some 500 refugees were resettled to Australia, Canada, Norway, and Sweden. So far this year, 44 people have been resettled in Australia.