UN uncovers human trafficking at refugee camp in Malawi

Monday June 13 2022
Zimbabwe refugee camp

A refugee camp in Zimbabwe. A United Nations team says it has uncovered, in Malawi, a refugee camp suspected to hold trafficked men, women, and children. PHOTO | FILE NMG


A United Nations team says it has uncovered, in Malawi, a refugee camp suspected to hold trafficked men, women, and children.

The UN Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Malawian Police Service made the discovery in routine monitoring of trafficking routes, the UN said.

According to the UN, measures are underway to dismantle the human trafficking networks operating within the Dzaleka Refugee Camp, identify and rescue their victims, and bring those responsible to justice.

“The situation was much worse than we first envisaged,” says UNODC’s Maxwell Matewere, who initially visited the camp in October 2020, where he trained camp staff and law enforcement officers on how to detect and respond to trafficking cases.

“I even witnessed a kind of Sunday market, where people come to buy children who were then exploited in situations of forced labour and prostitution,” he adds.

UNODC coached and mentored 28 camp officials and law enforcement officers who are now involved in the identification of victims and the investigation of trafficking cases and will train other colleagues at police stations and border crossing posts.


Since the training and the implementation of new anti-trafficking procedures, over 90 victims of human trafficking have been identified and rescued.

Also read: UK, Tanzania partner to fight child trafficking

Most of the victims rescued are men from Ethiopia, aged between 18 and 30. There are girls and women too, aged between 12 and 24 from Ethiopia, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

According to the UN refugee agency, as of December 2021, Malawi hosed 52,678 persons of concern (PoCs) to UNHCR.

The majority live in the Dzaleka refugee camp located in the Dowa district, some 41 kilometres away from the capital Lilongwe.

Dzaleka is a protracted camp with a monthly average of 300 new arrivals (62 percent are from the DRC, 19 percent Burundi,  seven percent Rwanda and two percent from other nationalities).

45 percent of the PoCs are women, and 48 percent are children. The camp was initially established to host between 10,000 to 12,000 PoCs but now hosts over 52,000 individuals.

Of the total PoC population, 21,530 have refugee status, 30,910 are asylum seekers, with 238 others of concern, making the refugee situation protracted.

The protracted nature of the camp settlement and encampment policy increases the risks of its inhabitants to infectious diseases, protection, and self-sufficiency, the UN adds.