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UNHCR and Malawi register all refugees and asylum seekers

News Stories, 22 November 2007

© UNHCR/J.Redden
Malawi's Deputy Minister of Home Affairs Symon Vuwa Kaunda (standing, with glasses) watches UNHCR registration staff at work during a tour of Dzaleka Refugee Camp.

DZALEKA, Malawi, November 22 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency and the government of Malawi are conducting a registration of all the residents in Dzaleka refugee camp to improve the protection, management and assistance to refugees and asylum seekers in the country.

"This registration is a vital part of helping refugees," said Matewos Beraki, acting head of the UNHCR office in Malawi. "It will provide us not just with numbers but with the details about the people in the camp that would help us to find permanent solutions to their situation."

The joint exercise, funded by a contribution from the European Union, began on Monday and will take until the middle of December to complete. A subsequent registration of refugees who are allowed by the authorities to live in the nearby capital, Lilongwe, and elsewhere in Malawi will be conducted in early December.

UNHCR and the government agreed it was imperative to verify and update the existing figures, which showed that Malawi was hosting about 4,000 recognized refugees and a similar number of applicants for asylum. Almost all live at Dzaleka. A second refugee camp, Luwani, was closed earlier this year and the residents relocated to Dzaleka.

"We are realizing during this registration that the existing data were poor often incomplete and inaccurate," said Andrew Hopkins, the UNHCR registration officer for southern Africa who directed the exercise. "The questions we are asking now should lead to profiling that allows us to understand each individual better and lead to solutions."

The details gathered by the teams, which were assembled and trained by UNHCR, will give profiles of each individual that is essential for planning how to care for refugees now and suggesting potential solutions for their future.

Individuals needing special protection, such as unaccompanied children who had been staying with other families, have been identified. There have also been divorces, marriages and births that had gone unrecorded since the last time the data was checked in 2004.

The household profiling information being entered into the UNHCR database this time includes job skills, education, languages spoken and many details of local connections like work permits, marriage and bank accounts. This could strengthen a case for local integration, although Malawi at present does not allow that step for refugees.

A range of questions on the intention to repatriate or the reasons not to return are vital for assessing prospects for repatriation from Malawi. Most refugees in Malawi came from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda or Burundi, but few in recent years have asked UNHCR to assist their return home.

That has left resettlement to a third country the other solution used by UNHCR as the main option pursued in recent years. The profile material gained in the registration will also ease the selection of potential resettlement cases.

The registration had been preceded by a publicity campaign to ensure refugees and asylum seekers in Malawi were aware of the exercise. Inevitably, there were some rumours that the registration which is a worldwide activity by UNHCR was a step toward forced repatriation.

UNHCR is never involved in forced repatriation and on a tour of Dzaleka Refugee Camp and at a subsequent news conference, Malawi's Deputy Minister of Home Affairs Symon Vuwa Kaunda emphasized that the registration aimed merely to improve the knowledge of UNHCR and the government.

"The information gathered by the exercise by the government and UNHCR will allow UNHCR to explore durable solutions," the deputy minister said. "The exercise will be solely for the purpose of registering, protecting and assisting the population of concern."

Each refugee over the age of 18 years will receive a plastic identification card issued by the government, which provides important protection when they are outside the camp. The refugee card is valid for five years and the asylum seeker card for one year, on the assumption that an application for refugee status could be decided during that period.

The next challenge for UNHCR, which is conducting similar registrations across southern Africa, is to ensure databases are continually updated. The UN refugee agency is examining how to ensure each country has trained staff amending the information to record births, newly recognized refugees, newly arrived asylum seekers and those refugees for whom a durable solution has been found.

By Jack Redden in Dzaleka, Malawi




UNHCR country pages


The recording, verifying, and updating of information on people of concern to UNHCR so they can be protected and UNHCR can ultimately find durable solutions.


UNHCR advocates fair and efficient procedures for asylum-seekers

Zero-Star "Hotel" that Asylum-Seekers Call Home in Dijon

France is one of the main destinations for asylum-seekers in Europe, with some 55,000 new asylum applications in 2012. As a result of the growing number of applicants, many French cities are facing an acute shortage of accommodation for asylum-seekers.

The government is trying to address the problem and, in February 2013, announced the creation of 4,000 additional places in state-run reception centres for asylum-seekers. But many asylum-seekers are still forced to sleep rough or to occupy empty buildings. One such building, dubbed the "Refugee Hotel" by its transient population, lies on the outskirts of the eastern city of Dijon. It illustrates the critical accommodation situation.

The former meat-packing plant is home to about 100 asylum-seekers, mostly from Chad, Mali and Somalia, but also from Georgia, Kosovo and other Eastern European countries. Most are single men, but there are also two families.

In this dank, rat-infested empty building, the pipes leak and the electricity supply is sporadic. There is only one lavatory, two taps with running water, no bathing facilities and no kitchen. The asylum-seekers sleep in the former cold-storage rooms. The authorities have tried to close the squat several times. These images, taken by British photographer Jason Tanner, show the desperate state of the building and depict the people who call it home.

Zero-Star "Hotel" that Asylum-Seekers Call Home in Dijon

Rescue at Sea

Summer, with its fair weather and calmer seas, often brings an increase in the number of people risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean and seek asylum in Europe. But this year the numbers have grown by a staggering amount. In the month of June, the Mare Nostrum search and rescue operation picked up desperate passengers at a rate of more than 750 per day.

In late June, UNHCR photographer Alfredo D'Amato boarded the San Giorgio, an Italian naval ship taking part in the operation, to document the rescue process - including the first sighting of boats from a military helicopter, the passengers' transfer to small rescue boats and then the mother ship, and finally their return to dry land in Puglia, Italy.

In the span of just six hours on 28 June, the crew rescued 1,171 people from four overcrowded boats. Over half were from war-torn Syrian, mostly families and large groups. Others came from Eritrea and Sudan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Somalia, Bangladesh and beyond. D'Amato's images and the interviews that accompanied them are windows into the lives of people whose situation at home had become so precarious that they were willing to risk it all.

Rescue at Sea

The Faces of Asylum

Everyone has a right to be treated humanely and with dignity. But asylum-seekers can sometimes be detained for years, forced to exist on the edge of society and struggle for their right to protection, while in some cases suffering human rights abuses. Their temporary new homes - a long way from the ones they left behind - can be sports halls, churches, closed centres, makeshift shelters or simply the street. Lives are put on hold while people wait in the hope of receiving refugee status.

Although it is the legitimate right of any government to secure its borders and prevent irregular immigration, it is important that anyone seeking asylum in a country have access to it. According to international law, states are obliged to provide protection to those in need, and must not return a person to a place where their life or freedom is threatened.

This photo set looks at the faces of people seeking asylum in industrialized countries - the real people behind the numbers, crossing land borders and oceans in search of safety, work or just a better life.

The Faces of Asylum

Italy: Mediterranean RescuePlay video

Italy: Mediterranean Rescue

The Italy Navy rescues hundreds of migrants and asylum seekers on the high seas as the numbers of people undertaking the crossing of the Mediterranean from North Africa grows.
Italy: Waiting for AsylumPlay video

Italy: Waiting for Asylum

Sicily has a high number of asylum-seekers because of its location in the south of Italy. In 2011, Cara Mineo was set up to provide asylum-seekers with a place to live while their applications were processed. Today, more than 4,000 people stay there and must wait up to a year for a decision on their applications.
Jordan: New Refugee Registration Centre OpensPlay video

Jordan: New Refugee Registration Centre Opens

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres visits a new registration centre in the Jordanian capital, Amman. The centre was opened to accommodate the growing needs of the many Syrian refugees living in Jordan.