Blantyre, Malawi — The World Food Program in Malawi says a funding shortfall has forced it to cut by one-half food rations for more than 50,000 people at the country’s only refugee camp.
The food cuts come at a time when refugees at the Dzaleka camp are complaining of inadequate food assistance, a situation that has forced some of the refugees to voluntarily return home.
Earlier this month, 38 refugees from Burundi returned home, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said plans are under way to repatriate another group of more than 50 refugees.
Simon Denhere, acting director for the WFP in Malawi, told VOA via a messaging app that the shortfall is because of a number of factors, including the high cost of food both locally and globally.
“The conflict in Ukraine, the enforcement of encampment policy by the Malawi government, and rising number of refugees worldwide, mobilizing resources, is increasingly becoming a challenge,” Denhere said.
Dzaleka is home to upwards of 50,000 refugees, mainly from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Somalia.
The WFP provides monthly cash assistance at the camp — where the refugees face several challenges, including insufficient shelter and inadequate health, water, and sanitation services.
The agency says the assistance provided was designed to meet the minimum recommended energy needs of 2,100 kilocalories.
However, it says the food cuts mean the refugees will now be receiving a monthly cash allowance of $5.90 per person.
Niyibigira Goreth, a refugee from Burundi and a community leader at Dzaleka refugee camp, told VOA the food cut likely will force many vulnerable women and girls into prostitution and men into theft to earn a living.
“Just imagine having 5,000 [Malawi Kwacha] a month, how can you have all you have to eat within a month, it’s a small amount of money per month. It will impact the refugees, some of them may go on prostitution and others may become thieves,” Goreth said.
The food cuts come as the government continues to relocate refugees who were staying in areas outside the camp.
The government says the relocation exercise, which started in June, is in line with its encampment policy which restricts the refugees to living and operating within camp premises.
Malawian officials said this month more than 2,000 of the targeted 8,000 refugees have been relocated to the camp.
Mikayas Bakola, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, was staying in Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe, with his Malawian wife. He told VOA the food shortage situation at the Dzaleka refugee camp has divided his family.
“Even if you can call my wife now, we are not together, she stays in Lilongwe. Just because we calculated on the problem that if she can come with children, I cannot financially manage because I am not getting food,” he said.
Last year, the U.N. World Food Program in Malawi delisted nearly 700 refugee families from food assistance, citing funding problems.
The WFP office in Malawi said in a statement this week it needs $6.3 million to reinstate the food assistance to current levels until June 2024.
“WFP is making significant efforts to engage donors and will continue to redouble its efforts to secure funding to avoid further reduction in assistance,” Denhere said.
In the meantime, he said, the WFP continues advocating to promote an enabling environment for increased self-reliance and to explore opportunities that would make refugees self-sustaining.