A letter from a young refugee to the President of Malawi

Divine Irakoze, a young refugee who grew up in Dzaleka camp, calls on the Malawi Government to reverse the decision to force refugees back into Dzaleka.

Dear Mr. President,

I hope this message finds you well. After much contemplation and reflection, I have finally gathered the courage to express my deep concern and worry about the recent decision to chase refugees out of the urban and rural areas of the country, and back into Dzaleka camp. 

Malawi has been a welcoming home to refugees since 1994. It is known for its kind, smiling, welcoming and friendly people, and in your native language you call it, “Dziko la Mkaka ndi Uchi - “The Warm Heart of Africa.” How  amazing and important would it be if we continue to uphold this tradition of kindness and generosity towards those who have fled their homes in search of safety and security?

Many of us came to Malawi when we were very young, mostly two, three and

four years old. We have known no other country than Malawi as being our home. Malawi raised us; it gave us shelter, refuge, and we are forever grateful. Life hasn’t been easy, but we have been trying in our own ways to survive in this country. We have done nothing but our best to contribute to society and make a living for ourselves and our families. In doing so, we have even tried to help some of those born here who are living in bad conditions.

Unfortunately, due to our refugee status, we face many challenges, including limited access to education, healthcare, and employment opportunities. Mr. President, for so many years, this country has restricted refugees from formal employment. We have seen our elders working hard to get an education, only to come back home not being able to work simply because of their status. 

And now it’s our generation’s turn. We graduated some years back, but unfortunately we can’t be employed either because of our status. So we have watched young refugees falling  into drugs and other forms of substance abuse as well as other unhealthy behaviors. We see girls having unplanned early pregnancies and jumping into early marriages because that is the only option they have.  Well, we have dreams too and we want to achieve them. We want to become doctors, nurses, lawyers, and presidents. We want to change our lives and prepare for those of our children in the future, but we can’t due to an encampment policy that restricts us from certain human rights.

So you see, it is a difficult and trying experience. That is why many refugees have resorted to living in urban areas despite not being welcomed. They do so in order to make money to make ends meet and to survive. The decision to chase them away from urban areas and back to the camp will only make their lives harder. It will make it even more difficult for them to find work and support themselves and their families. I understand that there may be concerns about the impact that refugees have on the local economy, and that this decision may have been made with good intentions. However, it is important to note that many refugees are highly skilled and talented individuals who have the potential to contribute greatly to society. So, are we going to turn a blind eye to their contributions so far? I hope not. 

Please remember that we are human beings with families with hopes and dreams. We have fled our homes in search of safety, security, and survival; we have found a welcoming home in Malawi. It is my hope, Mr. President, that you continue the tradition of kindness

and generosity towards refugees as you have done in the past. Give us a chance to contribute to our society and help us build a brighter future for Malawi. It is our hope that we can continue to live here in peace and dignity, and contribute to society in whatever way we can. Let’s together think on how we can develop as a nation rather than finding our differences. 

I urge you to reconsider this decision, and to remember that refugees are not a burden, but rather an asset to society. Let us all remember that being a refugee is not a choice anyone chooses to make but a state we are forced into by circumstances like war and other insecurities. Let us all rememberthat we are all citizens of mother earth, and we all belong to the universe.Since no one chooses to be a refugee, it means it’ss a state or condition that can befall anyone at any time. Please bear with me, my kind Mr. President. I am just another refugee-raised child and young person of my community raising my concerns and requests.

Thank you, Mr. President!


Divine Irakoze

[A concerned refugee]