UN says 35,000 refugees face hunger in Malawi

Refugees at Dzaleka camp face hunger

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and World Food Programme (WFP) have warned of an imminent disruption of food assistance for 35,000 refugees and asylum seekers in Malawi, urging the international community to commit the $4.2 million (about K3 billion) needed to support them in 2019.

A statement released by the two agencies says the displaced have fled political instability and social unrest in the Great Lakes and Horn of Africa regions over the past two decades, and are mainly from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), including 3,000 new arrivals since January this year.

The two agencies state that without additional funding, food rations will be suspended from next January, the peak of the lean season between harvests.

“Refugees are very often exceptionally resilient, but life for thousands of refugee and asylum seeker families will be dire without food. This will have a devastating impact on the health and nutrition of thousands of families unless more support is immediately made available,” said UNHCR Malawi representative Monique Ekoko.

The two organisations note that while efforts are being made to find a lasting solution, food assistance is urgently required.

WFP Malawi representative Benoit Thiry explained that due to limited access to arable land and other means of making a living, the displaced are largely dependent on outside help.

“WFP assistance makes up 90 percent of food consumed by refugees living in Malawi. We are grateful to out partners who have been gracious in supporting our operation, and appeal for continued support so that no refugee is left behind,” he said.

According to UNHCR, the number of people who have fled to Malawi has risen from almost 17,000 in 2013 to more than 37,000 in March 2018 and new asylum-seekers, particularly from the DRC, are arriving each month.

Most of those of concern to UNHCR live in Dzaleka refugee camp, which has a population of nearly 34,000.

More than 3,000 Mozambican asylum-seekers lived at Luwani Refugee Camp in Neno, until two months ago when they were voluntary repatriated to Mozambique.

UNHCR says it working with the Malawi government to explore such avenues as local integration, voluntary repatriation or return, and resettlement.

“The emphasis will be on gaining support for the integration of refugees into national systems and the decongestion of Dzaleka Camp. The government has indicated its intention to roll out Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework in Malawi.

“The approach from now on will be on settlement and self-reliance. This means UNHCR will press for reform of the legal framework, as well as an improvement in the process for determining refugee status.

This will require wider partnerships and greater sharing of the burden,” reads an undated statement on the UN refugee agency’s website.