Dzaleka (Malawi): general census of refugees

Dzaleka (Malawi): general census of refugees

UNHCR and the Government of Malawi are undertaking a general census of all refugees living in Dzaleka camp. The UNHCR officials say they want to update refugee data in addition to a camp relocation planned for early 2023. The refugees meanwhile want to see their living conditions improved as Burundians fear a disguised plan aimed at their forced repatriation. INFO SOS Médias Burundi

According to the UNHCR, the existing data shows that refugees living in the camp are 51.000 but that they are more than ten years old.

“First we want to update the photos of the refugees, remove the dead and add births. Such an exercise was only done for new arrivals but it was deemed appropriate to make updates, the physical features of the people changing each year too, “explain UNHCR officials.

In addition, the government of Malawi also plans to relocate this camp to another “wider and more airy” place.

“[…], then, one must know in advance the exact number of those who must be transferred to Lowani, the next place of reception which is already well equipped. A question of logistical programming too, because some refugees have already left for other countries, mainly South Africa”, indicate our sources.

Refugees reactions

Refugees who have confided in SOS Médias Burundi consider that the updating of data is of paramount importance.

“[…], they will also see that the proportions of needs and beneficiaries are no longer the same. They will be able to increase the ration, for example, why not. And then, these data will serve as a basis for the construction of schools and health centers at the new Lowani site”, they optimize.

But for others, behind this census hides a disguised wish for voluntary repatriation.

“We have heard that they will be able to identify refugees from countries deemed stable, including Burundi. So there is much concerns about our repatriation. We ask that after this census they can give us identity cards to leave the camp easily and open bank accounts,” say other Burundian refugees.


Some refugees fear that the census aims to force them to return.

“When I went to the census center with my family of 7, we were asked the same story, the same story that I told in 2015 when I fled Burundi: why I fled, for how, when, where I come from, my political affiliations, my background,… And so it’s as if I had to ask for asylum again. So, we are afraid that if ever the stories do not corroborate, the refugee status may be taken away from us”, explains another Burundian, father of a family who fears being repatriated by force.

UNHCR and the government of Malawi reassure the refugees that “the census is only for their own good”.

The Dzaleka camp was established by UNHCR in 1994 within a former political prison. Originally thought to only accommodate at least 10,000 people, it currently has more than 51,000 refugees mainly from the DRC, Burundi, Rwanda, Somalia and South Sudan.

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