Suspected carbon monoxide poisoning nearly killed 23 refugees and asylum seekers who were recently forced back to Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Dowa.
The incident occurred on the night of August 18, 2023, in one of the overcrowded tents housing dozens of returned refugees since May 17.
The Government of Malawi has been forcibly relocating refugees and asylum seekers back to the camp, shutting down their businesses in the process and causing untold misery on the refugees.
Inua Agency Chief Executive Officer Innocent Magambi told Nyasa Times in an interview on Tuesday that dozens of men, women, and children vomited while others fainted and struggled to breathe just before the midnight of Friday last week.
“After a mud rush to the Dzaleka clinic, they were informed that the facility could not handle the situation. A referral to Dowa District Hospital was necessary, but due to UNHCR funding shortages, the Dzaleka ambulance had not been fueled,” said Magambi.
He said it took the intervention of the Dzaleka Community leader who used his own car and fuel to transport people to Dowa where the sick received medical assistance.
One of the tent residents, interviewed by Inua Agency staff, explained that UNHCR funding cuts have resulted in a lack of electricity provision.
This means the water pump is not operational neither are the lights at the facility. Tents are the only place where people can sleep, cook, and store their belongings.
New arrivals come daily, but the number of toilets and bathrooms has not been increased. He wonders what will happen during the rainy season.
Those affected by the carbon monoxide poisoning have since been discharged, with the exception of a 46-year-old man, Francis Nkurunziza, who had just regained consciousness on Sunday morning and was on his fifth drip.
Francis told us that he had been attacked by police and locals at his shop in Salima during the relocation. All his wares were either stolen or burnt, and Mr Nkurunziza was returned to Dzaleka empty-handed.
The people affected by these events were all previously able to provide a dignified living for themselves and their children while contributing to the local economy as active members of society.
Because of the Refugee Act, which Inua Agency finds to be discriminatory and unjust, they have been reduced to complete dependence on insufficient aid.
According to the agency, if Malawi intends to press on with such forced re-encampment, it is imperative that funds be invested in providing basic services to people in Dzaleka.