20 January 2018
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International meeting of minds: Malawi and Tanzania

Written by  Bishop Witmos
Chitipa DC Chirwa (centre) and Ileje District Administrstive Officer Mary Joseph (left) share light moments - Pic by Bishop Witmos Chitipa DC Chirwa (centre) and Ileje District Administrstive Officer Mary Joseph (left) share light moments - Pic by Bishop Witmos

Chitipa, December 08, 2017: They entered into our territory when our security bouncers were on duty. 

In their large numbers, they seemed to have carried no dangerous weapons, but some had big cameras in their hands.

Government officials from Tanzania visited Malawi through the Isongole Border Post on September 6 this year.

However, their mission here was not for the current unresolved Lake Malawi boundary dispute.

It was an interdepartmental gathering between the Ileje District Assembly and Chitipa District Council of Tanzania and Malawi, respectively.

Of course, this was not the Tanzanian’s first meeting with the Malawian counterparts as they usually converge once every year to discuss various matters affecting the two border districts such as immigration and health, among other sectors.

International road construction
The Republic of Tanzania has started constructing a 52.2-kilometer Mpemba-Isongole Border Post tarmac road.

The earth road, which is very essential for importing vehicles and other business merchandise into Malawi, has been in bad shape over the years.

‘‘Our contractor is on the site now upgrading the road to a tarmac,’’ says District Administrative Officer for Ileje, Mary Joseph, who is accompanied by over 10 technocrats from her district.

‘‘The agreement is that Malawi will follow suit by tarmacking the road from the Isongole Border to Chitipa Boma,’’ says District Commissioner for Chitipa Grace Chirwa.

Health
However, from nowhere, the discussion, which is hosted at Chitipa Boma, changes tune from road construction to the health affairs of citizens from both nations in the bordering districts.

District Health Officer (DHO) for Chitipa Dr. Ted Bandawe has some words over the increased number of foreigners who access health services in Chitipa without documents from their countries.

The district is bordered by Zambia to the West and Tanzania to the North.

Bandawe says that this is contributing to the unregistered deaths in the district.

‘‘As from the year 2013 up to date, we have recorded over 20 unregistered maternal deaths of people who came to access services without any document; and this year alone, we have recorded two deaths,’’ Bandawe says.

He adds that sometimes security officers at Zambia and Tanzania border posts refuse to receive such unregistered dead bodies.

‘‘They send back such dead bodies to our health facilities,’’ Bandawe tells the international gathering.
However, a response by the authorities from Tanzania starts with blame on Malawi Government.

District Commanding Officer for Ileje Police Fadhila Majjid says the problem was influenced by the government of Malawi then, and that Malawians should expect more clients in the border district for medication as access to health services is free in the country.

‘‘Unlike in Tanzania where citizens pay money to access health services, we are told that in Malawi the services are free of charge,’’ Majjid says.

‘‘In our country, only children below five years and those who are older than sixty years get medication for free; as such, our people in the borderline will still be looking for free treatment in your country,’’ Majjid says.

Ileje District has a number of health facilities along the borderline with Chitipa, namely Bupigu, Chabu, Isongole, Msia, Ikumbilo, Mbebe and Shinji.

The pressure on Malawi’s health facilities is happening at a time when recent reports indicate that hospitals, including those in the border districts, are facing acute shortage of drugs.

There has been a debate in the country on whether the Ministry of Health should stop offering free services.

But every time when the discussion resurfaces, it faces major opposition from some activists who argue that abolishing free health services is an infringement of people’s rights, especially the poor.

The one-day highly level discussions do not stop on health matters.

Illegal immigrants
The blame game continues as the Malawian team again accuses their neighbours for letting illegal immigrants from countries like Burundi, Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo to pass through Tanzania into Malawi without documents.

Chitipa Immigration Officer-in-Charge Felix Mkanda says their proper investigation indicates that most of the aliens that pass through Tanzania to Malawi are economic refugees who are using the route to South Africa.

Mkanda states that when they reach Tanzania borders, the immigrants destroy all their documents in order to act as asylum seekers.

‘‘We have evidence that most of the illegal immigrants that pass through Tanzania borders are economic refugees, and whenever they are near your borders they destroy all their documents.

‘‘As such, we wonder how you allow them to pass through your country,” Mkanda says.

When the illegal immigrants are arrested in Malawi, they are detained for a period of 14 days before they are taken to court where they are ordered payment of fine or an option for jail term, while some face deportation.

But as the drama keeps unfolding, the technocrats from Tanzania fault Malawi for accepting to host the asylum seekers.

District Immigration Officer for Ileje Fredrick Luhanga says it will be difficult for his country to send immigrants back to their country when they are seeking refuge in Malawi.

“You have to understand that sending them back to their countries is very difficult because they prove to us that they are asylum seekers,’’ Luhanga says.

Malawi is a party to the 1951 Geneva Convention and also a signatory to the 1967 protocol relating to the status of refugees.

As such, the country offers a favourable environment for refugees, who are permitted entry and allowed to stay.

However, records show that the Malawi Government recently entered nine reservations for the 1951 convention, where it reserves its right to designate a place of residence for refugees, and to restrict their movement whenever there is an observation of national security.

Currently, Malawi Government plans to relocate its largest refugee camp from Dzaleka in Dowa to any nearest border district where the refugees come from.          

It was observed that Dzaleka camp is close to the capital city Lilongwe, therefore, hosting refugees there poses security threat.

The meeting in Chitipa ends around 5pm with an advice from Mary Joseph who suggests that the two countries should reduce the distance between immigration offices of the two countries at the border to address the problem of porousness.

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