Malawi: It all started at Kapise
01 September 2016

Kapise in the Mwanza District of Malawi. Approximately 11000 asylum seekers from Mozambique made this their home by January 2016. Now, only 26 families remain, living on the margins under very difficult conditions. (Gushwell F. Brooks/Jesuit Refugee Service)
"... , it is too dangerous to move back to Mozambique and too far to move to Luwani.”

Kapise, 31 August 2016 – As of December 2015, a number of asylum seekers from Mozambique crossed into neighbouring Malawi. Kapise, in the Mwanza District of Malawi, lies adjacent to Mozambique and is a community of small villages scattered throughout the hills. No fence, river or any such impediment divides the two countries and so by January 2016, approximately 11 000 refugees had made their way into Malawi, along a dirt road that disappears over the horizon. These asylum seekers sought safety, on the hills of Kapise as a result of renewed fighting in the rural villages of Mozambique.

Just over a kilometre away from their home country, these asylum seekers built their settlement amongst the crops cultivated by local communities. The tribal chief in Kapise, V.H. Kapise II, William Mitiwe, along with the community over which he presides, recognised the plight of these people who were caught up in the renewed conflict between government and opposition forces in Mozambique. However, a humanitarian crisis had developed and a response was needed.

Now, nine months after the crisis began, nearly 2000 refugees and asylum seekers have been voluntarily settled in Luwani, approximately two hour’s drive from Kapise, in a refugee camp. Most of the initial group of asylum seekers have returned to Mozambique in the hope to restart their lives, however some have returned as instability and resultant violence persists in Mozambique.

Twenty six families have opted to neither return to Mozambique nor to be voluntarily settled in Luwani. These people are living at the margins, extremely vulnerable as they do not have access to the aide their compatriots have in Luwani. Food, shelter, education, psycho-social assistance and many of the other programmes provided for in Luwani, cannot be provided to this group of people living in Kapise. Multiple attempts have been made to persuade them to move to Luwani, but most of them remain adamant, they want to make a living on the hills of Kapise.

The local chief remains supportive and Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), with very limited capacity, is still trying to assist these families as much as possible. One of the key concerns for the local community as well as this group of asylum seekers is the fact that the piece of land that was occupied by these asylum seekers needs intensified rehabilitation. With at least 22 000 feet trampling the soil and a vast number of tents erected to accommodate these asylum seekers, the once tilled lands are now hard and compact and impossible to cultivate.

Frank Mphulupulu, JRS Environment and Energy Co-ordinator in Mwanza District, has devised a project aimed at rehabilitating the soil whilst empowering the local community as well as this community of asylum seekers to play a central role in restoring the environment.

“There were many people here. The asylum seekers all lived here and as you can see the soil is as hard as rock. The people were also forced to use the trees to construct the temporary structures in which they lived as well as for fuel for fires, to cook and stay warm. It gets very cold in Kapise. But, now we devised a project to rehabilitate the soil and trees.” Frank explains.

Using simple hoes and spades, groups of asylum seekers and locals gather to till the lands and loosen the soil in an effort to make the soil suitable to arrange into beds for planting crops. Frank explains: “The locals and asylum seekers come together and work in rotating teams to soften and turn the soil. Thereafter we plant one fruit tree and one nitrogen fixing tree. The fruit trees can be cultivated to sell and consume fruit, whilst the nitrogen fixing trees restore the nutrients in the soil. As you can see some of the stumps that remained have been rehabilitated and these trees are beginning to grow again.”

It is perplexing to understand why these twenty six families wish to remain behind, close to the border, with no protection if the conflict were to spill over to the Malawian side of the border, whilst not having access to the important services organisations such as JRS are providing in Luwani camp. Yanikani Ferdison, explains why he is part of the community that has not moved to Luwani Refugee Camp.

“I arrived here in January 2016. Opposition forces had moved into the village where my family and I stayed and soon thereafter government soldiers moved into the area. The groups started fighting each other and our community was caught in the middle. Our homes and grain storage facilities were burnt to the ground, along with motorcycles and everything else we owned. The soldiers told us that we were harbouring and feeding their enemies. Some people in my community were killed and so my mother and I left for Malawi and came here.” Ferdison explains.

As people were being relocated to Luwani, Ferdison looked after his mother who was ill at the time. He did not want to leave her behind and move without her. His mother has subsequently returned to Mozambique, in search of her husband and is living in Mozambique with her other son, Ferdison’s brother. Ferdison knows that it is still unstable in Mozambique and is fearful to return.

Silva Wison, another Mozambican asylum seeker who arrived in January explains that he is still in the area as a result of his family: “My wife’s parents moved to Kapise during the civil war in Mozambique, which ended in 1992. My wife and I have six children and we brought them here when our houses and grain storage silos were burnt. My wife’s family took three of our children and when we were told that we can move to Luwani, they refused to return the children. They said we must stay here and settle like them, it is too dangerous to move back to Mozambique and too far to move to Luwani.”

These 26 families are living on the edge, only able to eat what they grow, on land that is barren and hard. They do not have the safety or the services provided in Luwani Refugee Camp, but JRS and the local community still endeavours to provide as much assistance as possible to people who have been pushed to the margins.

Press Contact Information
Gushwell Brooks
+27 11 618 3404