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The Misery of Migrants in Malawi

D 10 novembre 2015     H 05:37     A Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)     C 0 messages

Maula prison, in the Malawi capital of Lilongwe was built to accommodate 800 prisoners, but now is bursting at the seams with 2,650 inmates. Amongst this desperate population, the most vulnerable are the nearly 300 undocumented migrants who were arrested as they travelled towards South Africa. These men represent the reality of our mobile world, where people are on the move, seeking refuge from violence and inequality or escape from chronic poverty. Lacking any kind of resources, they left their countries of origin in the hope of building a decent life in South Africa. A dream denied at home, that dramatically ended up in Malawi’s prisons.

Abeba, a man in his thirties from Durame, Ethiopia says “We are not criminals ! But now, in prison, we are not human anymore.”

The number of foreign citizens, mostly Ethiopians, detained in Malawi for illegal entry has increased in the past few years, becoming a phenomenon of humanitarian concern. Most of them have been charged for three months, but the reality is that they have been locked away for more. The law requires they return to their homelands after their periods of detention, but bureaucratic delays impede any way forward. Moreover, they are supposed to cover their expenses for repatriation, a contradiction to their weak economic status.

A young boy explains “My dream is to reach South Africa ; this is what I have worked towards for years. I knew it would be difficult, but I never thought I’d end up here. I thought Africans were all brothers. But here… here it seems different.”

Ethiopians follow a long-standing pattern of migration towards South Africa, their beacon of light. “Where we live, there is not enough land for everyone, we are too many in my family,” says Abeba, counting with the fingers on both hands the number of brothers in his family. “If I go to South Africa, after two or three years I can afford to buy a house. If you work for twenty years in Ethiopia you can’t buy anything,” he says. Another young Ethiopian adds, “If you need a job there, you have to belong to a certain family that has land. My family doesn’t have any.” For many, leaving the country wasn’t a choice. It was their last hope for survival.

Prisoners in Maula get food only once a day. They usually eat a plate of nsima - ground maize that fills the stomach but doesn’t give many nutrients. Beans are an occasional treat. Nutrition is so poor that last month Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) had to treat 18 inmates for moderate-to-severe malnutrition