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Being a Refugee

By Divine Irakoze

A letter to a young refugee, from a young refugee” by Divine Irakoze.
Dear Mr. President: a letter from a young refugee to the President of Malawi” by Divine Irakoze.

Divine Irakoze is 22 years old. She is the Team Leader for Inspirational Stories for the Arts of Dzaleka Project. Divine’s parents and older siblings fled Burundi in the early 1990s. She was born in a refugee camp and has lived in camps her whole life. She left her family and the camp in the fall of 2022 to pursue a college degree in the USA where she is studying International Studies. She hopes someday to have a legal citizenship somewhere and to work as a refugee advocate.

Ever been in a situation whereby you wonder where you belong? Feel like you don’t fit in anywhere? As in you don’t have a place to feel comfortable and welcomed. Well, I have felt this for the past 22 years that I have lived on this earth. I am a Burundian by nationality, a Tanzania by birth, and a Malawian by residence. My question has always been, where do I belong? Where do I come from? Which country do I present as my country? How do I describe this? I have always had so many unanswered questions in my head just like anybody else can after hearing this. I was born and raised in a refugee camp, and life has never been easy. I have always told people that being a refugee is not easy. You are fighting for space in a country that is not your own, living in an environment whereby you are limited to so many life-changing opportunities.

The country of Malawi has very strict laws for refugees. Refugees and asylum-seekers are mainly hosted in the Dzaleka refugee camp, close to the capital city of Lilongwe. The government of Malawi has an encampment policy which restricts refugees from certain rights, such as access to tertiary education and formal employment. You need a permit to travel outside the camp. Accessing public schools and universities is a daily prayer. Acquiring the very basic knowledge is a hurdle for refugees in spite of the fact that access to education has been declared by the United Nations to be a human right. Work opportunities are not there. Life in the camp almost entirely depends on food distributions. The food at times is barely enough. Most girls are child mothers because they are lured by the old men to enable them to meet the basic needs for their families.

In the case of refugees and in their defence, I want to argue that refugees are not just helpless because we can be equal partners in development. Just as Innocent Magambi, a refugee and refugee advocate points out, “the rumour that refugees are a security threat to any country is a common rhetoric used to divert attention away from internal causes.” Refugees are not security threats anywhere, but victims of security issues that exist where they come from and where they live. “Once we recognise that refugees have become part of the society, we will be ready to move forward with solutions that benefit everyone” (Refugees Should be Seen 2017). Starting from Malawi, this should also be voted to go to all countries hosting refugees so that refugees have the opportunity to be part of the society and work together toward development.

Malawi should revise their policies for refugees. They should let refugees work and have opportunities like anybody else. We shouldn’t be seen as a threat or people who came to steal opportunities away. We should be seen as people who are people of the community now and have to work together towards development. The 2063 sustainable development goals will never be achieved by Malawians alone, but rather by giving opportunities to refugees to let them work together for the better development of the country.

Refugees are also people like others who have vision, missions to accomplish, dreams, ambitions as well as goals to achieve in their lives. Let the world know that refugees are very amazing people. Like anybody else, we need love, respect, equal opportunities, and dignity. It was not our desire to leave our home countries or not to return. We lost everything and want to start a new chapter of our lives. This does not mean that we shouldn’t be considered as human beings. For someone to move away from the country, there is always a reason, and that reason is always a human rights violation. Despite being refugees, we still bear the name “human,'' and every human being is entitled to rights. We enjoy and exercise our rights which among our rights, we have the right to accomplish dreams, visions and ambitions.

Sources Cited

Refugees Should Be Seen As Resource That Can Help Malawi Prosper [opinion]. 2017.