Small scale business operators wary over continued refugee presence

Marketplace in Malawi
  • Push for their relocation to Dzaleka

Small scale business operators of Malawi have expressed concern with government’s lack of inactivity over the refugees relocation exercise to Dzaleka camp in Dowa arguing it is stifling their operations; is a threat to the country’s security and cultures.

The grouping’s Chairperson Tennison Mulimbula lamented over the increased numbers of illegal immigrants parading as asylum seekers and refugees a development which is adversely impacting their businesses.

He made the sentiments during an interface with Parliamentary Committee on Trade, Industry and Tourism.

The concerns come in the wake of a High Court ruling in August 2022 which ordered the refugees’ relocation followed by an announcement from Homeland Minister Jean Sendeza which put the deadline of 31st November for refugees in rural areas and 1st February 2022 for those residing in towns.

Sendeza is on record having stated that Treasury is yet to give her Ministry the K300 million needed for the refugee relocation exercise.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), about 8000 refugees live outside Dzaleka camp out of which only 47 have so far relocated according to Mulimbula.

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Mulimbula: Lamented that refugees are pushing them out of business

He indicated that their continued presence in towns has led to increased prices of goods at the expense of local businesses noting they have taken over all the business even those on Chapati and mandasi (fritters).

The local operators have had discussions with government since 2020 on how the refugees have been a hindrance to their operations calling for deliberate policies to support local businesses.

They also held another meeting in August 2021 with Homeland Minister in Mangochi where they expressed discontent over the growing number of refugees and asylum seekers.

He alleged the Rwandese, Burundi and Congolese get married to Malawian women in their quest to acquire citizenships, national IDs and passports.

The Chairperson stressed that they won't have any more of this because as bonafide citizens, they should enjoy their economic freedoms without any hindrance by the refugees.

Mulimbula pointed out that having tried other avenues which have hit a blank wall, Parliament is their last hope on the matter.

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Some of the grouping members captured at Parliament

One of the businessmen who trades in used tyres said out of the 69 shops, only four are owned by the locals and this puts them at a disadvantage.

Sheikh Imran Ali accused the authorities of favouring foreigners suspecting corrupt under dealings derailing implementation of the exercise.

Mangochi Central legislator Victoria Kingston spoke in agreement with the sentiments of the small scale businesses and applauded them for following the right avenue to voice their issues.

She confessed that as a businessperson herself, she also faced stiff competition from the refugees in her liquor shop business and was forced had to close down.

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Members of the Parliamentary Committee on Trade following the presentation

Kingston appealed to them to put on hold plans to personally deal with the refugees by taking matters into their own hands.

The Committee members agreed that their role is to ensure that bottlenecks such as high taxes hindering their trade are removed.

Joseph Mwanamvekha clarified that even after getting married; they're supposed to be in camps not in villages or cities.

Acting Committee Chairperson Ben Phiri assured them that they will push for their welfare as a Committee which represents the country’s business interests.