By Wezzie Gausi:
A stench awaits you as you enter Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Dowa District.
It comes not only from the swamps but from the odour of the human population in this home of multitudes of refugees from Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Somalia and Ethiopia.
This has been the trend in the past two decades since the first lot of the refugees was allocated space in this camp, which has been synonymous with suffering.
The suffering intensifies because food ration given to the refugees is inadequate and the asylum—seekers have limited access to arable land; hence, they depend on monthly rations from World Food Programme (WFP).
But due to the continued swelling of the camp’s population, the initial ration allocation was reduced from 13 kilogrammes per person per month to six kilogrammes per person per month.
The refugees receive maize rations and they have to source money for milling the grain.
The journey to Dzaleka may take you to Byosaa’s family, a household headed by a widow.
Byosa Mikechi comes from Uvira, a town in South Kivu, DRC. In Uvira, a widow becomes property of her brother-in-law.
After the sudden death of her husband, Byosa refused to marry her brother-in-law, in part because he was HIV positive.
The brother-in-law and his friends visited her daily and her continued refusal gave rise to threats of rape and murder.
Combined with increased instability and violence in South Kivu, she took nine children—seven of her own plus two children orphaned from violence—and walked for five days to reach Burundi then Tanzania.
“It was not an easy journey to reach this country. We went through thick forests. We were chased by thugs and rebels. We stayed without food and water but, worse still, I lost two of my children on the way,” Byosa said.
Since arriving in Dzaleka in 2013, her household has grown to 14 people who are living in a two-bedroomed house.
One of her daughters married and has three children. Unfortunately, the husband deserted her and the children; leaving the burden of raising them to Byosa.
She started earning money from doing piecework such as washing clothes and patching rooftops for K500 per task.
Eventually, she prepared a small garden where she grows maize, beans and soybeans to sell.
“The environment is tough in the camp. I fetch water and food but it is not enough. But everywhere in the world, there are problems and, at least, we have a way of living in a miserable way unlike in the country we are from,” Byosa said.
Byosa said they survive on food provided by well-wishers, especially WFP, but since the rations have been halved, the struggles are very real.
“We don’t have money to use at the maize mills, so we end up selling part of the small rations to make sure that we have money to make flour.
“Most of our children do not go to school. One cannot concentrate on an empty stomach. They end up dropping out in order to do piecework, increasing chances of poverty in our society.
“Though we have space to live in peacefully, we are suffering. Children are turning into thieves for survival’s sake. All sorts of bad practices happen just to make sure that we have something to eat,” Byosa said.
WFP has been providing food assistance to 38,000 refugees and asylum-seekers at Dzaleka since July 2015.
WFP Country Representative, Benoit Thiry, said there has been an increase in the number of new arrivals at the camp estimated at 500 monthly, the majority from the DRC.
Thiry said WFP needs donor support as the organisation provides 90 percent of food consumed by refugees living in Malawi.
“Although this remains subject to available donor funding, WFP plans to provide food assistance using individual monthly food baskets, which include maize (six kgs), currently reduced from 13 kgs due to funding,” Thiry said.
He said they want to liaise with the Malawi government to allow some refuges to mix with its citizens so as to ensure that they support themselves.
Patricia Sinoya, the camp’s manager, said the government has numerous challenges and needs donor community support.
“We all know that these people are not allowed out of the camp, so, for them to fend for themselves, it is a big a challenge. This leads them into indulging in bad behaviour such as stealing and prostitution,” Sinoya said.
By January 31 2019, 38,297 refugees and asylum-seekers were resident at Dzaleka with 419 new arrivals and babies registered by February 2019.
Due to the encampment policy, the majority of refugees at the camp have limited income-generating opportunities.
Therefore, WFP calls for well-wishers to partner them in helping the refugees.
“Together we can change lives of refugees in the country,” Thiry said.