Five refugees at the Dzaleka refugee camp in central Malawi were injured when a hand grenade exploded at the camp’s main market Wednesday evening. Police have arrested a Rwandan refugee suspected of intentionally detonating the device.
Police say three people, including a leader for refugees from Burundi, sustained serious injuries and are hospitalized at nearby Dowa district hospital.
Gladson M’bumpha, police spokesperson in Dowa district, told VOA that one of the seriously injured victims, Butoyi Fedeli, who leads the Burundi refugees at the camp, was with his secretary, Bruno Ndaishime, when they saw a person lighting matches before throwing a grenade at them.
“Following this, Fedeli fell down while bleeding and he was rushed to Dzaleka health center, from where he was rushed to Dowa District Hospital following several cuts on both legs. Ndaishime also sustained cuts in the legs and on the back,” M’bumpha said.
Three other people, including an 11-year-old, sustained injuries of varying degrees. They are also hospitalized at Dowa.
Meanwhile, police have arrested 42-year-old Rwandan refugee Umoton John Peter, who is suspected of intentionally setting off the device.
Peter is expected to appear in court to answer charges of grievous harm after police conclude their investigation.
The incident, the first at the camp, has caused panic and fear among refugees there, including Assana Abdullah, who is from Burundi.
“I did not sleep last night, and today I am just staying indoors. I can’t even go to the market,” she said, adding that the incident will dent the images of all the refugees at the camp, and authorities could decide to chase out all of them because of one or two people.
Government authorities and the U.N.’s refugee agency, UNHCR, have condemned the attack.
“We are urging the government to swiftly investigate the incident and [ensure] perpetrators are held to account,” said Kenyi Emmanuel Lukajo, associate external relations and reporting officer for UNHCR in Malawi. “Our deepest sympathies are to the victims of this heinous attack and their loved ones. We are checking on their well-being and offer our support they may need.”
The Dzaleka refugee camp was meant to host about 12,000 refugees. However, it is now home to more than 50,000 refugees, many from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the rest from Burundi, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Somalia.
Lukajo said overcrowding could have contributed to the attack.
“It’s shocking to see such an incident happen in Dzaleka. But we are also concerned that the congestion in Dzaleka is possibly making it difficult for security agencies to do their work properly,” Lukajo said.
Plans are under way to reconstruct the abandoned Luwani refugee camp to help ease the overcrowding at Dzaleka. But UNHCR officials say they’re having trouble finding the needed funds to rebuild the Luwani camp.
Meanwhile, Lukajo said the U.N. refugee agency has suspended its activities at the Dzaleka camp until the security situation is rectified.
Police spokesperson M’bumpha said police are patrolling the camp to calm the tense situation there.