Malawi to reopen refugee camp as Mozambicans flee violence


Malawi will reopen a former refugee camp to cope with an influx of around 250 Mozambicans a day fleeing political discord and worsening fighting between former civil war foes at home, the United Nations refugee agency said on Tuesday.

The drought-stricken southern African nation will struggle to provide for the new arrivals, as the 25 000 refugees already in Malawi have been receiving half rations of food aid since October due to funding shortages.

Almost 11 500 Mozambican refugees have crossed into Malawi since December, UNHCR said, most of them going to Kapise, a village five kilometres inside Malawi and some 100 kilometres south of the capital, Lilongwe.
“From around 130 people a day before late February we are now seeing around 250 people every day in Kapise,” UNHCR spokesman Leo Dobbs told a Geneva briefing.
“We need $1.8 million to meet immediate needs, but more will be needed to cope with the growing number of arrivals.”

Mozambicans who arrived earlier in the year spoke of having fled deadly attacks on their villages, he said, while more recent arrivals were fearful of clashes between the government and Renamo guerrillas.

Renamo, Mozambique’s main opposition group, has said it wants to take control of six northern provinces.

Renamo fighters have attacked police outposts near the Malawi border, where they have public support, while government forces retaliate by torching villages where they believe rebels are hiding, security sources say.

One million people died and a further million fled to Malawi during Mozambique’s 1976 to 1992 civil war between Renamo, originally a guerrilla force backed by neighbouring white-minority powers, and Frelimo, the communist movement which took power at independence in 1975 and remains the ruling party.

Preparations are under way to reopen the former camp, Luwani, which closed in 2007. It is 65 kilometres from the border and has more space and better security than overcrowded Kapise, UNHCR said.

The refugee influx is putting a strain on Malawi’s stretched resources at a time when one of the worst droughts in its history is expected to plunge 2.8 million people into hunger.

Aid funds are in short supply across southern Africa, where 14 million people need food aid as a result of the El Nino weather phenomenon.