Mozambique: Number of Mozambican Refugees in Malawi Over 7,000

Maputo – The number of Mozambican refugees in Malawi has now reached 7,000 and is continuing to rise, according to the independent television station STV, which sent a team to the refugee camp at Kapise, in Mwanza district, in southern Malawi.

By last Saturday, the Kapise camp was housing 7,108 Mozambicans. Over 500 others had not yet been registered, because the team from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) at the camp is understaffed. It can take two or three days for a refugee to be registered by the UNHCR, and only after registration do the refugees receive a tent or a space to build a hut.

UNHCR field officer Elsie Mills told STV that the UNHCR has been making every effort to guarantee that the refugees have at least a minimum of food, water, shelter and medical care. The UNHCR has been coordinating with the Malawian government and with UNICEF (United Nation;s Children’s Fund) to set up classrooms so that the children can continue to study.

Mills said the Malawian authorities are not willing to allow the refugees to return to Mozambique while their security is not guaranteed. She said that only when it was confirmed that clashes between Mozambican government forces and gunmen of the rebel movement Renamo had ceased would the refugees be encouraged to return home.

Although Defence Minister Atanasio Mtumuke categorically denied that the armed forces (FADM) had committed any abuses against civilians in those parts of Tete province bordering on Malawi, some refugees, speaking on condition of anonymity, told STV they were fleeing from the army which had mistaken them for supporters of Renamo.

STV said all those interviewed claimed that, when members of the defence and security forces arrived, they insisted that the residents were Renamo members and beat up some of them. They also accused the government forces of burning down their houses and barns full of maize, even though they insisted they were just peasant farmers who knew nothing about the whereabouts of the Renamo gunmen.

They categorically denied ever having been members of Renamo. They said they knew Renamo members were active in the Nkondezi area, near the Mozambique/Malawi border, and sometimes asked local people for food, but did not know where they were based.

They said they would only return when they were sure the conflict was over and that they would not be harassed. They asked the government and Renamo to entire into dialogue to seek peace. Until that happened, they would prefer to live in the Malawian refugee camp, despite its miserable conditions.

The STV team also visited the Nkondezi area where they could see the ruins of burnt and abandoned houses. Some Nkondezi residents have preferred to stay, saying they had heard there was a high prevalence of malaria in the Kapise camp. They farm their fields by day, and at night take refuge in areas regarded as safe.

They too told STV that the houses were burnt by the defence and security forces when they were looking for the Renamo gunmen.

Speaking in Beira on Friday, where he was presiding at a ceremony opening the military academic year, Mtumuke said there was no reason for the government to investigate the allegations of abuses committed by the armed forces in Tete. He categorically denied that such abuses had occurred, though when pressed further he admitted there might be isolated cases of abuses of human rights committed by individuals.

He guaranteed that, should any soldiers be identified who had abused civilians they would be severely punished.

“Our mission is to protect people and not to use them as slaves or guinea-pigs”, he said. “The Mozambican army is highly trained to protect the country and not to abuse our fellow citizens. So we have nothing to investigate”.

Source: All Africa