Interview with Bote Zamadenga, the MSF’s medical activities manager for the Corridor project in Malawi.
When did the influx of refugees to South Malawi begin?
Last July, 701 people arrived in Malawi and were transferred by UNHCR to Luwani camp, saying that they were fleeing conflict in neighbouring Mozambique. Most returned to Tete province within two months, and the remaining 145 individuals were relocated to Kapise village which is the point of entry to Malawi. We’ve seen a second, larger wave of arrivals since last November. There are now close to 3,000 people living in precarious conditions there. The majority are women and children, some of them unaccompanied minors.
Why did they flee?
The refugees tell us that they are fleeing reprisal from Mozambican armed forces who accuse them of supporting the RENAMO opposition. However we cannot confirm who is behind the violence. During our medical consultations we have not seen physical signs of abuse or signs of post-traumatic stress on the refugees, and most report that the violence they witnessed was inflicted not upon them but on members of their families or neighbors. We have treated many people for body pains due to the long travel they made by foot, often two or three days, which is particularly difficult for the large number of children who are now in Kapise.
What is the situation on the ground?
The refugees live in precarious conditions: there is currently not enough shelter for everyone which makes life especially difficult considering we’ve recently entered the rainy season, clean water is in short supply, sanitation inadequate. We can see the landscape around Kapise changing rapidly with people having to cut down trees to try and build basic shelter. Malaria is of particular concern: Kapise is located between two large swamps and most people fled without any possessions, notably mosquito nets. Since November 70% of malaria cases were children under the age of five. We are hoping that the UNHCR will soon set up a proper refugee camp in another location that will have better services provided including: water and sanitation and more shelter and mosquito nets for the conditions to improve in the coming days.
MSF has a permanent presence in Nsanje district, South Malawi (near Mwanza district where Kapise is located), supporting the Ministry of Health in providing care for people living with HIV. It also manages a HIV project in neighboring Tete province in Malawi and has capacity to quickly intervene in case of an emergency in the region.