Rafiq Hajat, AAM chairperson
* Describes conduct of the door-to-door sweep to capture illegal immigrants as unconstitutional
* Says the Immigration Act of 1988 predates and is thus not harmonised with the Malawi Constitution
* Muslim women were allegedly asked to uncover their faces
* Which is strictly forbidden according to the beliefs of conservative Muslims
By Duncan Mlanjira
Asian Association of Maravi (AAM) have been greatly aggrieved by “extremely aggressive” invasion by Immigration Department made at Area 2 in Lilongwe on the night of May 9, which the officials had explained was a door-to-door sweep to capture illegal immigrants.
A statement, addressed to no one in particular — dated May 13 issued by AAM chairperson, Rafiq Hajat — describes the Immigration officials conduct in the operation as unconstitutional and that they allegedly refused to show their identity papers.
The statement explains that on the night of Sunday May 9, the residents of Area 2 “were peacefully asleep when they suddenly were awakened by furious banging at their front doors at approximately 1am”.
“Thinking that there was something sorely amiss, they opened the doors to find out what was going on and encountered a group of Immigration Officials, Policemen and Soldiers — equipped with large hammers and crowbars — ostensibly intent on forcing entry if the doors were not opened timeously.
“The bewildered residents were brusquely told that the Department of Immigration was conducting a door-to-door sweep to capture illegal immigrants and their home would thus have to be searched.”
However, Hajat contends that “the attitude of the officials was extremely aggressive and indeed lacked any consideration for the rights of the residents or any sensitivity for cultural/religious norms”.
He alleges that the said Immigration officials “insisted that Muslim women should uncover their faces which is strictly forbidden according to the beliefs of conservative Muslims”.
“When some intrepid residents asked for the identity of the officials, the adamant refusal was followed by increased aggressiveness and, when some enquired whether the officials had a search warrant, the mood turned ugly and the enquirers were roughly manhandled.”
Hajat also reminded of a similar operation that took place in Zomba at the same time on the same night, saying “this disturbing episode raises some profound questions as to the legality of such actions in Malawi”.
The statement says the Immigration Act of 1988 predates and is thus not harmonised with the Malawi Constitution which, in Section 5 states ‘Any act of Government or any law that is inconsistent with the provisions of this Constitution shall, to the extent of such inconsistency, be invalid’.
“It is thus evident that the sweeping powers that the Act bestows upon Immigration Officials are therefore questionable in terms of constitutionality and of human rights guaranteed by the Constitution of Malawi;
“The Constitution S12 (iv) states that: ‘The inherent dignity and worth of each human being requires that the State and all persons shall recognize and protect fundamental human rights and afford the fullest protection to the rights and views of all individuals, groups and minorities whether or not they are entitled to vote’.”
Hajat further quotes Section 19 (3) of the Constitution that ‘No person shall be subject to torture of any kind or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’ as well as Section 21 1(a) that ‘Every person shall have the right to personal privacy, which shall include the right not to be subject to searches of his or her person, home or property’.
“Further to the above, we wish to question how these illegal immigrants were allowed entry into the country in the first place? The identity of the Immigration Officials who issued their visas should be easily traceable in these days of bio-data computerisation and therefore raises the question as to why these Immigration officials are let off without reprimand whilst the illegal immigrants are hounded so remorselessly by others from the same Department?
“In addition, it is worth noting that when some of these illegal immigrants are caught, they spend an evening or two in custody and are then released to wander freely, until the next time when the whole farce is repeated — again and again! Something is sorely amiss!”
AAM thus recommends that therefore “the archaic Immigration Act of 1968 must be updated and harmonised with the Constitution as soon as possible”;
And that “the Immigration Officials who facilitate entry or aid and abet illegal immigrants to continue staying here should be identified and penalised severely as a deterrent to other would-be offenders”;
And also that “officials from the Dept. of Immigration must cease immediately to act in such an aggressive manner forthwith and develop a more humane attitude”.
“Any interrogation of female suspects must be conducted by female officers in order to respect religious, cultural and gender sensibilities.
“Any bonafide person who has been affected by such behaviour from Government Officials must report the incident directly to institutions such as the Malawi Human Rights Commission, who must then take up the challenge to exact justice upon recalcitrant offenders.”
In its conclusion, AAM they fully support the government’s efforts in curbing illegal immigration but they have “serious reservations on the modus operandi that was applied”, saying “such behaviour by government officials belongs in a Police State and not in a Constitutional Democracy”.
“It is therefore necessary for the Department of Immigration and all State institutions to acquaint themselves and adhere to the provisions on the Constitution instead of using archaic legislation to justify violations of human rights.
“We trust that these concerns will be received in a constructive manner and welcome any dialogue on the issues alluded to above,” the statement said.