A day in Dzaleka Refugee Camp, Malawi


Entry to Dzaleka refugee camp, Malawi.

Entry to Dzaleka refugee camp, Malawi.

Last year I had the indelible experience of visiting Dzaleka refugee camp in Malawi. Dzaleka was established by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in 1994. The camp is home to forcibly displaced people fleeing genocide, violence and wars in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Ethiopia, and Somalia.

The camp’s population has since risen exponentially to 37,000. Despite being a poor nation—more than half of Malawians live on less than one US Dollar per day—Malawi currently hosts close to 50,000 refugees. Dzaleka is located in Dowa District, around 50 km from Lilongwe, the capital city. It is the largest camp out of three.

During my day I met refugees that had lived there for over 14 years, including teenagers that were born in the camp.

There are restaurants, barber shops, schools, churches, bars, mechanics, banks, a radio station. It covers huge terrain and expands daily. People build their own houses from mud bricks throughout the camp, during the rainy season these often collapse. When I walked through, I was greeted with warm smiles and handshakes. It is custom and a sign of respect to hold your elbow while shaking hands.

Although it was advised to avoid taking photos, I was granted permission to publish the following.

A child in a self-built mud hut

A child in a self-built mud hut

Children playing miniature pool.

Children playing miniature pool.

Edmund (left) is from the DRC. He has been in the camp for 14 years and has just finished his diploma. Dan (right), also from the DRC and a refugee at the camp for 14 years. Simple Jay (centre) is the camp’s tattooist. He uses a stick & poke method, using a needle and ink that’s stored in a syringe for safe keeping. Customers come to him to have mostly animals and names of loved ones tattooed. He is a Rasta and fashioned a key out of a stick for his hut’s door—he called it a Rasta key. He is also in the camp’s dance troop.

Edmund (left) is from the DRC. He has been in the camp for 14 years and has just finished his diploma. Dan (right), also from the DRC and a refugee at the camp for 14 years. Simple Jay (centre) is the camp’s tattooist. He uses a stick & poke method, using a needle and ink that’s stored in a syringe for safe keeping. Customers come to him to have mostly animals and names of loved ones tattooed. He is a Rasta and fashioned a key out of a stick for his hut’s door—he called it a Rasta key. He is also in the camp’s dance troop.

Dance troop.

Dance troop.

Jean tends the camp’s veggie garden. She sells produce at local markets.

Jean tends the camp’s veggie garden. She sells produce at local markets.

The camp also has its own radio station.

The camp also has its own radio station.

Shalex (right) makes and sells clothing at the camp. He also runs workshops teaching other refugees how to sew.

Shalex (right) makes and sells clothing at the camp. He also runs workshops teaching other refugees how to sew.

Shalex Design
Dzaleka Refugee Camp
UNHCR
Dzaleka
The smaller kids would watch the dance troop from trees tops.

The smaller kids would watch the dance troop from trees tops.

Some goats outside a residence.

Some goats outside a residence.

Mr photogenic.

Mr photogenic.

Kids on the roadside selling skewered mice, a popular delicacy among many Malawians.

Kids on the roadside selling skewered mice, a popular delicacy among many Malawians.