Malawi President Joyce Banda has said the southern African country should re-consider the future of refugees and asylum seekers because “they are monopolising businesses'', a statement analysts has said.
The analyst also said that the statement by the President could trigger xenophobia.
“It's high time we discussed the future of the Dzaleka Refugee Camp,” she told a police passing out parade in the eastern city of Zomba Friday.
“Maybe we should just close it and let us find something to do with that place.”
She added: “We, Malawians, are also interested in the businesses these people are running.”
Dzaleka Refugee Camp in the central district of Dowa is a UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)-Malawi government-run refugee agency.
It currently hosts about 14,500 refugees and asylum seekers mainly from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and Rwanda and the Horn of African countries of Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia.
President Banda said some of the refugees and asylum seekers are not genuine, alleging some of them are involved in violent crimes.
“How can you continue being a refugee when war in your country ended some ten years ago?” she said.
“In some countries they have put a deadline on when refugees should leave. We must do the same.”
Owing to its porous borders,Malawi is considered an easy transit route for economic refugees from the Horn of Africa who are seeking a greener pastures in South Africa.
Every week, over 500 people are intercepted as they try to sneak into the country.
They mainly connive with corrupt police officers and chiefs in Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi and Mozambique to aide their entry into South Africa.
In July, nearly 50 Ethiopians drowned in Lake Malawi as they tried to enter Malawi illegally from Tanzania.
A further 42 Malawi-bound Ethiopians suffocated to death in a truck in Tanzania in June.
Tensions are always high between the refugees and locals living around the refugee camp.
Local residents accuse the refugees of monopolising business.
The refugees are given a monthly stipend which some industrious ones among them use to run business.
Some have even opened thriving businesses in the cities, especially the capital, Lilongwe.
Things went awry in May when angry residents in Dowa attacked Burundians and demolished their shops.
Analysts say the remarks by President Banda against the refugees may increase the tension and spur further xenophobic attacks.
A senior UNHCR official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, described the remarks as unfortunate.
“She doesn't know what she is talking about.
Malawi is signatory to UN conventions on refugees and cannot unilaterally chase away refugees and asylum? seekers,''the official said.