Mornings are the worst time for Fayness Alpha. Her children wail from hunger most often when they wake up, she says.
Alpha was 15 when she first arrived at Dzaleka – a refugee camp in Dowa, 40km from Malawi’s capital Lilongwe – having been forced from her home in the Democratic Republic of the Congo by bandit attacks. A decade later, she is married with three children. But, like thousands of others, she is unable to find work in the camp or to leave, rendering her dependent on rations provided by the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP).
But the WFP – underfunded and facing pressure from other emergencies – “re-evaluated” the needs of the camp’s inhabitants. Alpha was among hundreds who found themselves removed from the list for receiving monthly food supplies. Many say this has left them destitute.
“My husband and I are jobless and depend on rations to survive. Ever since we were taken off the list, life has been very hard and we’re just surviving on the grace of God,” says Alpha.
“Life is complicated now, and as you can see my children are crying because of hunger. We’re living a difficult and painful life.” She has appealed to WFP staff to reconsider her situation.
The UN conducted a household “vulnerability profiling exercise” of 10,846 refugee and asylum-seeker households in Dzaleka in 2020. Ranking households by income and need, it determined that 678 had found alternative livelihoods, making them food secure. But many of those who found themselves removed say they are baffled as to why.
Dzaleka was established 25 years ago in response to an increase in the number of people fleeing genocide and wars in Burundi, Rwanda and DRC. With an initial capacity for 10,000 people, the camp now houses about 50,000.
Malawi is again seeing new arrivals of people pushed by conflicts, civil unrest and political and economic instability across the region. About 600 people came after being displaced by Mozambique’s floods in February.
Paul Turnbull, WFP director for Malawi, says the growing number of people in the camp is stretching resources. “In the current economic context, especially with the conflict in Ukraine, funding is very difficult.
“WFP appreciates the support it gets from its funding partners to provide food assistance to refugees in Malawi and elsewhere. The number of refugees in Dzaleka camp has more than doubled since 2013. With limited access to business opportunities, WFP assistance is the primary source of food for most people. Alternative sources of livelihoods in the camp have also been affected by the pandemic,” he says.
More than half of those removed from the list have appealed to the WFP, including Elie Zagabe, 37, who escaped from war in DRC 16 years ago. He enrolled for community learning and eventually found a job helping out in a primary school. But he earns a minimum amount and believes his family’s food rations have been taken away because of a mistake.
“I lost my position [on the list] because the two children are seriously sick. Last two weeks, the second-born was very sick and admitted at Dowa clinic with pneumonia. I think this is because of the cold here at the camp. I was with the child at the hospital while my wife was taking care of the other child at home.
“The people who were doing the survey didn’t approach me. I found them at my neighbour’s place and I told them to reach my home but they said since they had seen me we could interact right there.” He says others he knows on the same salary have stayed on the list, and his attempt to appeal against the decision has been in vain.
“I’m living in a desperate situation. We sometimes spend the night without food. My children cry of hunger and I have nowhere to turn to. We might die of hunger,” he says.
Of the 325 households who appealed, WFP says 103 are eligible to be “reprofiled” using the same vulnerability questionnaire used in 2020, although this does not guarantee being reinstated on the list.
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