Divine Irakoze on life inside Malawi’s Dzaleka refugee camp and the issues facing youth in her community

Divine is a refugee from Burundi living in Malawi.

I normally tell people that being a refugee is not easy. You are fighting for space in a country that is not your own. I mean no one wishes to be a refugee, it is very unfortunate and sad that many people end up being victims for freeing their country to look for refuge. In a refugee camp, you struggle to live a better life, at least have good food and so many things that you do not have access on. Most people look down on refugees. They think that they are not like any other human being who is in his or her own country. 

This is life in the camp. Dzaleka Refugee Camp is such a small camp hosting so many refugees from different countries. We talk of Burundi, Rwanda, DR Congo, Somalia and Ethiopia. Life in the camp entirely depends on food distributions. At times, the food is barely enough. Most girls are child mothers because they are lured by the old men to meet the basic needs for them as well as their families.

In Malawi, refugees are not allowed to work. This has left so many youths in the camp became unemployed. They are wasted away into drug abuse and other unhealthy habits. People do not have any land to at least do farming so that it could keep them when the food from the World Food Programme is not there. They work so hard but sadly they are not allowed to work in Malawi. People in the camp get less than $3 as a monthly ratio. While the educated young people who try to find jobs, they are allowed to volunteer and get not more than 50,000MK as a monthly stipend. Accessing good education, basic health care, is a daily prayer.

Refugees in Malawi are legally required to live their lives inside Dzaleka. They are not free to move, take up employment or to study outside refugee camp. Someone once asked that “what is the point of getting that good education if we won’t use it for anything anyway?”  Think of a life whereby you will go to school, struggle to make it, putting all your effort in there, but only to stay home with your papers soon after you graduate.  It is so sad that we don’t even have anything to do with it. But wait, I think we can still something. What if we were to come together and advocate for these innocent people? Something may definitely change for the better.

My voice, your voice, his voice, her voice, their voice and everyone’s voice matters the most. Also, as we are voicing out and waiting for the government decision, we can also give them financially support. We could support them by giving them little capital to introduce some small business that would help them raise their children. While for the youths in the community, we could introduce something that can keep them busy and productive. We talk of entrepreneurship, vocational trainings and so many things that would easily help them out. We have lost many young people in the community simply because they do not have anything to do. Some who could have been great leaders of tomorrow? Let us all normalize helping and supporting each other, we never know what tomorrow holds. The one you are helping today can turn to be the one helping you tomorrow. This world is very small, we should always remember that. 

I hope that one day I will be a strong advocate for refugees. My dream is to advocate for and empower refugees with skills for self-reliance. I believe that refugees deserves a good environment that calls for respect just like any other human being. Every second, someone is being forced to abandon their homes, fleeing crisis. At least 100 million of people were forced to flee their homes in the decade, seeking refuge either within or outside the borders of their country. It’s sad how people do not understand that nobody loves to be a refugee and none chooses to, it just happens to a person just like it can happen to anyone else. My hope is that people come to understand this and treat refugees just like any other human being.