Newly arrived Mozambican refugees wait for registration at the Kapisi refugee camp in the Mwanza district on the Malawian Mozambican border on January 7, 2015 in Malawi. Picture: Eldson Chagara/ AFP

The UN refugee agency has welcomed a decision by Malawi to reopen a former refugee camp to help cope with the rising numbers of people fleeing a conflict brewing in Mozambique.

The UNHCR said on Tuesday that close to 10 000 refugees have now been registered in southern Malawi, many of them fearing conflict between the Frelimo government and opposition Renamo party.

“Most of the new arrivals, who have been crossing to Malawi since mid-December, are in a single village, Kapise, 100km south of Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe,” said Leo Dobbs, UNHCR spokesman.

“Others are scattered throughout the neighbouring district of Chikwawa.”

To date, UNHCR staff and the Malawi government workers have registered 9 600 people; others are waiting to be registered.

The total including these is almost 11 500.

“More recent arrivals say they were fleeing out of fear of clashes this month between government forces and Renamo,” said Dobbs.

Renamo is the main opposition group, which wants to take control of six northern provinces (Manica, Sofala, Tete, Zambezia, Nampula and Niassa).

The opposition group says it won control of the six provinces in the October 2015 general elections, which the government says is not true.

Frelimo MPs on March 3 urged Mozambique’s attorney-general’s office to investigate crimes committed by Renamo, and suggested it could be outlawed as a political party, the Mozambican news agency AIM reported.

The Malawi government decision was announced on March 11 and involves reopening Luwani refugee camp, where basic services and security can be better guaranteed. Kapise is just 5km from the border, but Luwani is some 65km inside Malawi.Luwani camp previously hosted Mozambican refugees during the 1977-1992 civil war and was finally closed in 2007.

“Preparations are under way for the move, which UNHCR hopes to start shortly,” said Dobbs. “Luwani has more than 160ha of space, including forest. Refugees will have better facilities and services there, including health, education, water and protection.

“Importantly, it will be safer.”

UN and international agencies such as Unicef, WFP and MSF are providing essential services in Kapise, including water boreholes, food and health care.

This has helped to improve, but conditions generally remain tough and in future it will be used mainly as a transit camp.

But the UNHCR and others organisations face funding problems.

”We need $1.8 million (about R26.8m) to meet immediate needs, but more will be needed to cope with the growing number of arrivals,” said Dobbs.

Malawi already hosts about 25 000 refugees, mostly from the Great Lakes region and the Horn of Africa, at Dzaleka camp, which is full. Food rations have been cut to 50% since October and resources to assist refugees are limited, the UN agency said.

Independent Foreign Service