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Malawi, Mozambique butt heads over refugee crisis

22 March 2016, 15:42 Brian Ligomeka, News24 Correspondent

Blantyre - Malawi is at loggerheads with Mozambique over the handling of over 12 000 Mozambican refugees, currently living in makeshift camps at Kapise in the border district of Mwanza.

The bone of contention between the two neighbouring countries is over where the refugees should be moved.

Malawi wants them relocated to Luwani Refugee Camp, which at the height of Mozambican civil war hosted over 300 000 Mozambican refugees. Mozambique is against that, saying the refugees should be repatriated back home.

Malawian Home Affairs Minister Jean Kalilani told News24 in an interview on Monday that "there is indeed a difference in handling the issue".

"Considering the adequate facilities and vastness of Luwani Refugee Camp, we believe that our Mozambican brothers and sisters would be comfortable there. However, our colleagues in Mozambique have some reservations and we have put on hold our plan to relocate them to Luwani Refugee Camp. The good news is that we are holding mutual discussions on the matter with our counterparts," Kalilani said.

Since its citizens began fleeing, authorities in Mozambique have been at pains to admit that clashes between government forces and residue militia of former rebel group, the Mozambique National Resistance (Renamo), have been escalating.

The governor of the western Mozambican province of Tete, Paulo Awade, recently denied the presence of refugees in Malawi.

"The people in the refugee camp are Malawians, rather than Mozambicans. Don't talk to me about refugees, because there are no refugees." he told journalists.

He added: "What exists in Malawi are displaced people and, if we pay attention, day after day, the numbers are rising. In Malawi there is drought, just as there is in Mozambique, and some Malawians turn themselves into displaced people at strategic points along our border. So we have no refugees in Malawi."

Despite his claims, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) last week praised Malawi for its decision to reopen Luwani camp.

UNHCR spokesperson Leo Dobbs, in a statement issued on Tuesday, welcomed the decision by Malawi to reopen a former refugee camp.

"Daily arrival rates in Malawi have been growing over the past month. From around 130 people a day before late February, we are now seeing around 250 people every day in Kapise. Mozambicans who arrived earlier in the year spoke of having fled deadly attacks on their villages," Dobbs said.

UNHCR, which already looks after over 25 000 refugees in Malawi - mostly from the Great Lakes region and the Horn of Africa - has indicated that it needs $1.8m to meet immediate needs.

UNHCR representative in Malawi, Monique Ekoko, said his agency had not yet been informed of Malawi’s suspension of the refugee relocation programme to Luwani Camp.

"We have not yet received official communication on the matter," Ekoko said.

The conflict in Mozambique erupted last year after Renamo leader Alfonso Dhlakama threatened to seize power in six provinces of Manica, Sofala, Tete, Zambezia, Nampula and Niassa. Mozambican forces are trying to disarm Renamo's militia.

- News24

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