The number of Mozambican refugees in Malawi has declined substantially in recent months but there are still more than 4,000 of the refugees living in two camps in Malawi, according to a report from the Mozambican Human Rights League (LDH), presented at a public meeting here Thursday.

The LDH sent researchers to the two camps — Kapise and Luwani –, and visited the Mozambican districts from which the refugees had fled — Moatize and Angonia in Tete Province, and Mocuba, Morrumbala and Milange in Zambezia Province.

The movement of refugees, the LDH said, began in December 2015, when 6,000 Mozambicans crossed the border. The number of refugees reached its peak in May this year, when there were 11,500 Mozambicans in the camps. However, by July, the number had fallen to 4,438. with 49 per cent of them men and 51 per cent women.

All the refugees interviewed by the LDH, whether from Tete or from Zambezia, said they were fleeing from the armed conflict between government forces and the rebel movement, Renamo. Most of the interviewees blamed the defence and security forces.

The LDH says there are reports of 13 people (eight in Tete and five in Zambezia) who were summarily executed by government forces, because they were believed to be members or supporters of Renamo.

Many of the interviewees accused the defence forces of burning and vandalizing houses and barns. There were also reports of rapes, but the LDH researchers were unable to confirm these.

The LDH also identified three people murdered by Renamo. The rebels had accused these victims of working for the government or for the ruling Frelimo Party. The LDH team found a house in Samoa locality, in Tete, which had been burnt down by Renamo, and where the locality secretary and his assistant were gunned down in cold blood.

The LDH report also criticizes the government for its slow response to the crisis, and for its lack of co-ordination, leading to contradictory public declarations from officials. It claims there was an attempt by some officials at forcing refugees to return, which was a violation of the international protocols signed by Mozambique.

The main conclusion reached by the LDH is that the government and Renamo should “make efforts to achieve an effective and sustainable peace as the path to ending this situation of a silent war, the abuse of human rights and the refugee crisis”.

It urged the government to produce an “exhaustive report” on the refugee situation, and to take “disciplinary, administrative and criminal measures against those responsible for abusing human rights”. In particular, it wanted the government to investigate the summary executions reported by refugees and to punish those who had committed these crimes.

Speaking at the meeting, the chairperson of the parliamentary commission on legal and constitutional matters and human rights, Frelimo deputy Edson Macuacua, praised civil society and the LDH in particular for the work undertaken. He said the proposals made by the LDH will be taken into consideration by his commission.

Macuacua regarded the LDH report as an excellent basis for work, of very important legal value.

“The report criticizes the behaviour of some bodies, and we shall analyse this,” he promised. “The criticisms are welcome, not only do they help us reflect, but also to correct what is not good and to improve our work.”

Lutero Simango, head of the parliamentary group of the opposition Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM), said the current situation resulted from “the lack of political inclusion, and the lack of national reconciliation”.

Simango said the MDM urged those who resort to military means to disarm.