Uncle Harvest on REFUGEES IN MALAWI : A PITFALL OR OPPORTUNITY?

The question that begs an answer is:"Is the presence of refugees in Malawi a pitfall or an opportunity?"

In the past few days media has been awash with discussion and debate on the Malawi government's decision to return all refugees that were residing and operating from outside Mdzaleka Refugee Camp in Dowa.

There were those in full support of the action, saying refugees belong to the camp and not in the general community. Some even wondering as to why these refugees are still in the country when peace long returned in their countries of origin.

This position obviously does not take into consideration the tangibility of post- traumatic stress, uncertainty and fear in the life of a refugee.

On the other hand , there were those who argued that government's decision and action was inconsiderate of the human rights of refugees and inconsistent to pan-Africanist solidarity.

The question that begs an answer is:"Is the presence of refugees in Malawi a pitfall or an opportunity?"

What needs to be clarified from the onset is that there is a distinction between refugees /asylum seekers and illegal immigrants. Refugees are duly registered with both the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and Malawi's government Department of Refugees in the Ministry of Homeland Security. These refugees undergo a rigorous security screen and clearance to ascertain their genuineness before being granted refugee status. Those with doubtful backgrounds or possess criminal records are denied refugee status.This screening process's integrity is unquestionable and trustworthy.

What are some of the opportunities that Malawi could harness or derive from the presence of refugees in the country?

1. Malawi's international profile as a refugee hosting country is highlighted, especially when you consider it's not being well endowed with resources, yet exercising generosity. This is a source of admiration internationally. Malawi's friendliness, warmth and smiles attracts to itself many friends and collaborators in the areas of development aid, tourism, and foreign direct investment. Truly,a country that welcomes refugees would be welcoming to tourists and investors.

2. Among the refugees are people with knowledge, skills, and competencies, some of which are rare and much needed in the country.A good example is that of a Burundian refugee doctor who worked at Namitondo Catholic Mission Hospital, a few kilometres west of Lilongwe City that raised the profile of that hospital and its services. Malawi can benefit tremendously if she harnessed the potential in these refugees.

It is an indisputable fact Burundian refugees have demonstrated outstanding aptitude in entrepreneurship and agricultural skills, in arts and culture and even in international trade.

TEVETA could easily harness such skills for the benefit of Malawians. The presence of these refugees is therefore an opportunity and not a pitfall. This is an opportunity that we have failed to identify.

Opportunity is not lost for the Malawi government to relook at its strategy in the handling of this issue.

Some quarters have even suggested that refugee numbers in this country are so small that the best the government could do is to grant them citizenship and close down the Camp.

Those who do not take the offer would be repatriated back home or to a third country.

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