The United Nations Refugee Agency in Malawi, UNHCR has said preparations for the moving of Dzaleka refugee camp in Dowa to Katuli in Karonga District is at an advanced stage.
UNHCR Country representative Mornique Ekoko said in an interview on the sidelines of a donation of medical drugs and equipment worth over K33 Million at the camp’s health Centre on 4th November 2016.
She said UNHCR together with government and other stakeholders noted several things that prompted them to move the camp which currently has a population of more than 20,000 refugees which is three times above the required number.
According to Ekoko, apart from being close to the city, a problem which government noted not to be conducive, Dzaleka has a very small land which the refugees can use for agriculture and other economic activities for their survival.
“Dzaleka sits on a small piece of land which is not enough for farming; we want to help refugees move from only surviving on donations. We want them to engage themselves in various economic activities” She said
Ekoko added that currently there is a livelihood project which UNHCR is implementing which mostly is focusing on building capacity among refugees.
“Katuli has an advantage over Dzaleka in accommodating the livelihood project because of its vast land. Apart from farming we want refugees to be trained in various vocation skills” She said.
She further added that, due to its proximity to the border, it’s easy to repatriates refugees from Karonga to their respective countries as compared to Dzaleka in Dowa district which is very far from the border districts.
When asked if communities surrounding Katuli has welcomed the move, Ekoko said they have done thorough research and consultations with stake holders including government both at community and National level and most people have welcomed the idea.
“We have been discussing this for close to five years , and most people especially those in Karonga are willing to host the refugees. There are a lot of benefits which the communities surrounding the camp will get, for example education and health services because there will be a school and a hospital which will carter for both the refugees and the indigenous people” Said Ekoko.
She said the process of moving the camp it’s not a one day thing since there are several things involved.
“It’s a gradual process; it may even take 10 years from now to completely shut down Dzaleka. Currently we are busy registering and verifying all the refugees so that they are granted the refugee status by the government.” She added
Dzaleka refugee camp which was initially a prison is located in Dowa district, which is 50km from Lilongwe.