Malawi

Detains migrants or asylum seekers?

Yes

Has laws regulating migration-related detention?

Yes

Refugees

34,972

2023

Asylum Applications

16,494

2023

International Migrants

191,000

2020

Population

20,900,000

2023

Overview

Malawi has often been praised for its efforts to provide protection to refugees. But this reputation has been tarnished by the government’s forced refugee encampment policy, launched in 2021, which seeks to ensure that all refugees and asylum seekers in the country reside in the country’s principal refugee camp, Dzaleka. During 2023, authorities have conducted forced relocations, which have resulted in hundreds of people–including children–being temporarily detained in Maula Prison.

Types of facilities used for migration-related detention
Administrative Ad Hoc Criminal Unknown

Malawi’s Encampment Policy: Forced Relocations and Detentions 

In March, the Malawi government issued a directive ordering all refugees in the country living in urban or rural areas to relocate to the country’s already overcrowded Dzaleka Refugee Camp. Since then, authorities have forcibly relocated thousands to the camp, often detaining them temporarily in prison.  Forced relocation According to the 27 March directive, all […]

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Dzaleka Refugee Camp, Malawi

21 April 2020 – Malawi

As of 19 April Malawi did not have any reported cases of Covid-19. The country has also not taken any measures to lockdown businesses as the country’s High Court blocked such measures in a ruling on 19 April. However, there are growing concerns among civil society organisations about the impact the virus could have in […]

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Victor Mhango from the Centre for Human Rights Advice Assistance and Education addressing Prisoners at Chichiri Prison, (Nyasa Times, “CSOs Call for Decongestion in Malawi Prisons as Response to Covid-19,” 18 March 2020, https://www.nyasatimes.com/csos-call-for-decongestion-in-malawi-prisons-as-response-to-covid-19/)
Last updated:

DETENTION STATISTICS

Migration Detainee Entries
Not Available
2020
Alternative Total Migration Detainee Entries
Not Available
2021
Not Available
2020
Total Migration Detainees (Entries + Remaining from previous year)
Not Available
2021
Not Available
2020
Not Available
2019
Alternative Total Migration Detainees
Not Available
2021
Not Available
2020
Reported Detainee Population (Day)
Not Available Not Available
2021
Not Available Not Available
2020
Average Daily Detainee Population (year)
Not Available
2021
Not Available
2020
Immigration Detainees as Percentage of Total Migrant population (Year)
Not Available
2021
Not Available
2020

DETAINEE DATA

Countries of Origin (Year)
Congo (Brazzaville) (Burundi) Rwanda Mozambique
2021
2020
Burundi (Congo (Kinshasa)) Somalia Rwanda Mozambique
2018
Congo (Kinshasa) (Rwanda) Burundi Somalia
2014
Number of Asylum Seekers Placed in Immigration Detention (Year)
0
2021
0
2020
19,669
2014
Number of Women Placed in Immigration Detention (year)
0
2021
0
2020
9,244
2014
Total Number of Children Placed in Immigration Detention (Year)
0
2021
0
2020
36
2017
Number of Unaccompanied Children Placed in Immigration Detention (Year)
0
2021
0
2020
756
2016
400
2014
Number of Accompanied Children Placed in Immigration Detention (Year)
0
2021
0
2020
0
2014
Number of Stateless Persons Placed in Immigration Detention (Year)
0
2021
0
2020
0
2014
Number of Deaths in Immigration Custody (year)
0
2021
0
2020
Cases of Self-Harming and Suicide Attempts in Immigration Custody (Year)
0
2021
0
2020

DETENTION CAPACITY

Total Immigration Detention Capacity
0
2021
0
2020
Immigration Detention Capacity (Specialised Immigration Facilities Only)
7,000
2019
Number of Dedicated Immigration Detention Centres
0
2021
0
2020

ALTERNATIVES TO DETENTION

Number of Detainees Referred to ATDs (Year)
0
2021
0
2020
Official ATD Absconder Rate (Percentage)(Year)
0
2021
0
2020
Number of People in ATDs on Given Day
0
2021
0
2020

ADDITIONAL ENFORCEMENT DATA

Percentage of Detainees Released (year)
0
2021
0
2020
Percentage of Detainees Deported (year)
0
2021
0
2020
Number of Deportations/Forced Removals (Year)
0
2021
0
2020
1,698
2014
Number of Voluntary Returns & Deportations (Year)
0
2021
0
2020
111
2014
Percentage of Removals v. Total Removal Orders (Year)
2021
2020
Number of People Refused Entry (Year)
0
2021
0
2020
Number of Apprehensions of Non-Citizens (Year)
0
2021
0
2020
350
2009

PRISON DATA

Criminal Prison Population (Year)
14,500
2020
14,060
2019
14,018
2016
12,236
2012
11,672
2010
10,830
2007
9,220
2004
7,920
2001
6,505
1998
4,886
1996
4,685
1993
Percentage of Foreign Prisoners (Year)
2021
2020
0.2
2014
1
2009
Prison Population Rate (per 100,000 of National Population)
71
2020
71
2019
79
2016
77
2010
78
2007
74
2004
68
2001
61
1998
48
1996
48
1993

POPULATION DATA

Population (Year)
20,900,000
2023
19,648,000
2021
19,100,000
2020
17,215,000
2015
International Migrants (Year)
191,000
2020
247,652
2019
215,200
2015
International Migrants as Percentage of Population (Year)
1
2020
1.2
2015
Estimated Undocumented Population (Year)
Not Available (Not Available)
2021
Not Available (Not Available)
2020
Refugees (Year)
34,972
2023
21,529
2021
14,897
2020
14,087
2019
13,782
2018
8,982
2017
9,386
2016
9,019
2015
5,874
2014
Ratio of Refugees Per 1000 Inhabitants (Year)
1.1
2021
0.78
2020
0.53
2016
0.35
2014
Asylum Applications (Year)
16,494
2023
4,559
2021
3,278
2020
7,603
2019
17,028
2016
3,877
2014
Number of People Granted Temporary Protection Status (Year)
Not Available
2021
Not Available
2020
Refugee Recognition Rate (Year)
Not Available
2021
Not Available
2020
100
2014
Stateless Persons (Year)
0
2022
Not Available
2021
0
2020
0
2016
0
2015

SOCIO-ECONOMIC DATA & POLLS

Gross Domestic Product per Capita (in USD)
642.7
2021
625.3
2020
255
2014
Remittances to the Country (in USD)
233
2021
216
2020
217
2019
29
2014
Remittances From the Country (in USD)
37
2020
29
2019
Unemployment Rate
7
2021
6
2020
2014
Unemployment Rate Amongst Migrants
2021
2020
Net Official Development Assistance (ODA) (in Millions USD)
1,453
2020
1,206.22
2019
930.2
2014
Human Development Index Ranking (UNDP)
169 (Low)
2021
170 (Low)
2020
174 (Low)
2019
173 (Low)
2015
Integration Index Score
2021
2020
15
2019
World Bank Rule of Law Index
46 (-0.24)
2021
45 (-0.27)
2020
43
2019
Domestic Opinion Polls on Immigration
2021
2020
Pew Global Attitudes Poll on Immigration
2021
2020

LEGAL & REGULATORY FRAMEWORK

Does the Country Detain People for Migration, Asylum, or Citizenship Reasons?
Yes
2023
Yes
1989
Does the Country Have Specific Laws that Provide for Migration-Related Detention?
Yes
2023
Yes
1968
Detention-Related Legislation
Malawi: Immigration Act of 1964 (1964) 1987
1964
Do Migration Detainees Have Constitutional Guarantees?
Yes (Republic of Malawi (Constitution) Act Chapter IV: Human Rights) 1966 2017
1966
Additional Legislation
Access to Information Act, 2017 (2020)
2020
Malawi: Refugee Act of 1989 (1989)
1989
Prisons Act (Chapter 9:02) (1956)
1956
Regulations, Standards, Guidelines
Malawi: Refugee Regulations, 1990 (1990)
1990
Malawi: Immigration Regulations of 1968 (1968)
1968
Expedited/Fast Track Removal
Yes
1964
Summary Removal/Pushbacks
In Law: No
1989
Re-Entry Ban
Yes
1964
Legal Tradition(s)
Common law
2017
Customary law
2017

GROUNDS FOR DETENTION

Immigration-Status-Related Grounds
Detention to establish/verify identity and nationality
1968
Detention to effect removal
1964
Non-Immigration-Status-Related Grounds in Immigration Legislation
Detention on health-related grounds
1964
Detention on public order, threats or security grounds
1964
Criminal Penalties for Immigration-Related Violations
No (Yes)
1964
Grounds for Criminal Immigration-Related Incarceration / Maximum Length of Incarceration
Unauthorized entry (14)
1964
Unauthorized re-entry
1964
Has the Country Decriminalised Immigration-Related Violations?
No
1964
Children & Other Vulnerable Groups
Asylum seekers (Prohibited)
1989
Persons with disabilities (Provided)
1964
Accompanied minors (Provided)
1964
Mandatory Detention
Yes (Undocumented non-citizens with criminal records)
1964
Yes (Non-citizens who have violated a re-entry ban)
1964

LENGTH OF DETENTION

Maximum Length of Administrative Immigration Detention
No Limit
1990
Average Length of Immigration Detention
2016
Maximum Length of Detention of Asylum-Seekers
Number of Days: 0
1989
Recorded Length of Immigration Detention
2016
Maximum Length in Custody Prior to Detention Order
Number of Days: 14
1964
Maximum Length of Detention at Port of Entry
Number of Days: 14
1964
Maximum Length of Incarceration for Immigration-Related Criminal Conviction
Number of Days: 365
1964

DETENTION INSTITUTIONS

Custodial Authorities
The Defence Force of Malawi Defence
1966
Apprehending Authorities
The Malawi Police Service (Police)
1966
The Malawi Prisons Service (Prison or correctional agency)
1966
Detention Facility Management
The Prisons Service Commission (Governmental)
1966
Formally Designated Detention Estate?
Yes (Dedicated immigration detention facilities)
2021
Types of Detention Facilities Used in Practice
Immigration detention centre (Ad hoc)
2021

PROCEDURAL STANDARDS & SAFEGUARDS

Procedural Standards
Right to appeal the lawfulness of detention (Yes) No
2017
Compensation for unlawful detention (No)
2017
Information to detainees (Yes)
1966
Right to legal counsel (Yes)
1966
Right to appeal the lawfulness of detention (Yes)
1966
Duration of Time between Detention Reviews (Day)
Not applicable
1964
Legal Appeals (Year)
Number of appeals during year: 11969
Number of successful appeals during year: 3357
2015
Are Non-Custodial Measures/Alternatives to Detention (ATDs) Provided in Law?
Immigration Law: Yes
Asylum/Refugee Law: No
1988
Does the Law Stipulate Consideration of Non-Custodial Measures (ATDs) before Imposing Detention?
Immigration Law: Yes
1968
Types of Non-Custodial Measures (ATDs) Provided in Law
Provision of a guarantor (Yes)
1968
Impact of Legal ATDs on Overall Detention Rates
Decreased ("To help deal with prison overcrowding, Malawi instituted a community service order plan in 2000. By late September 2004, Malawi had placed 5,225 offenders on community service orders. They performed 838,000 hours of work, and completed 87 per cent of the tasks assigned. For offenders who completed their community service obligation, the rate of re-offending fell to 0.25 per cent, or just one of out of every 400 offenders. In addition, the Malawi government saved $227,717 by using community service rather than imprisonment.")
2004
Access to Detainees
Lawyer: Yes
Family Members: Yes
NGOs: Yes
International Monitors: Yes
Consular Representatives: Yes
2020
Recouping Detention or Removal Costs
Detainee Charged
1968

COSTS & OUTSOURCING

COVID-19 DATA

TRANSPARENCY

Transparency Score on Migration-Related Detention
Little or No Transparency
2021
Publicly Accessible Statistics on Numbers of People Detained?
No
2018
Disaggregated Detention Data?
No
2018
Access to Information Legislation?
Yes
2020

MONITORING

Types of Authorised Detention Monitoring Institutions
The Malawi Red Cross Society (Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO))
2019
Paralegal Advisory Service Institute (Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO))
2000
Prison Inspectorate Board (Parliamentary (Congressional) Organs)
1966
Malawi Human Rights Commission (National Human Rights Institution (or Ombudsperson) (NHRI))
1966
Malawi Judiciary: Judges of the High Court (Judiciary organs)
1956
Insitutions that Can Make Unannounced Visits
The Malawi Red Cross Society
2019
Malawi Human Rights Commission
1966
Malawi Judiciary: Judges of the High Court
1956

NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS MONITORING BODIES

National Human Rights Institution (NHRI)
Yes (Malawi Human Rights Commission) Yes Yes Yes Yes
1966
NHRI Monitoring Reports
2015 Annual Report, 31 March 2016

NATIONAL PREVENTIVE MECHANISMS (OPTIONAL PROTOCOL TO UN CONVENTION AGAINST TORTURE)

NON-GOVERNMENTAL ORGANISATIONS (NGOs)

Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) that Carry Out Detention Monitoring Visits
Yes
2019

GOVERNMENTAL MONITORING BODIES

Parliamentary or congressional bodies that undertake detention monitoring
Yes
1966
Parliamentary or congressional monitoring reports on migration-related detention
Malawi Prison Service Strategic Plan: 2015-2020
2020
Do parliamentary organs have capacity to receive complaints?
Yes
2019

INTERNATIONAL DETENTION MONITORING

International Monitoring Bodies that Carry Out Detention Monitoring Visits
2019
International monitoring reports on migration-related detention
UNHCR, Joint Assessment Mission Report: Dzaleka Refugee Camp, Malawi, November 2014
2014
UNHCR, Joint Assessment Mission Report: Dzaleka Refugee Camp, Malawi, 2012
2012

INTERNATIONAL TREATIES & TREATY BODIES

International Treaties Ratified
Ratification Year
Observation Date
ICPED, International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance
2017
2018
VCCR, Vienna Convention on Consular Relations
1980
2017
ICERD, International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
1996
2017
ICESCR, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
1993
2017
ICCPR, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
1993
2017
CEDAW, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women
1987
2017
CAT, Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
1996
2017
CRC, Convention on the Rights of the Child
1991
2017
CRPD, Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
2009
2017
CRSR, Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees
1987
2017
CRSSP, Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons
2009
2017
CTOCTP, Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children
2005
2017
CTOCSP, Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime
2005
2017
OPCRPD, Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
1987
1987
Ratio of relevant international treaties ratified
Ratio: 14/19
Treaty Reservations
Reservation Year
Observation Date
CRSR Article 22 1987
1987
2017
Individual Complaints Procedures
Acceptance Year
ICCPR, First Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966 1996
1996
Ratio of Complaints Procedures Accepted
Observation Date
1/7
2017
Relevant Recommendations or Observations Issued by Treaty Bodies
Recommendation Year
Observation Date
Committee on the Rights of the Child § 39. "The Committee recommends that the State party: (a) Review its child refugee management policies, followed by sufficient awareness-raising on the existence and scope of the policy; (b) Scale up the support and facilities for children in refugee camps, particularly by addressing the shortage of sanitation, education facilities, leisure activities and medical services and by providing children with the opportunity to continue higher education and have access to employment; (c) Provide migrant and refugee children with adequate support, including safe homes, in conditions that meet their special protection and assistance needs; (d) Put in place measures for family tracing and reunification; (e) Consider withdrawing reservations to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, particularly on the right of association (art. 15), which limits the freedom of movement and place of residence, on public education (art. 22) and on naturalization (art. 34), which has been used to deny most of the applications by refugees to residence permits." 2017
2017

> UN Special Procedures

> UN Universal Periodic Review

Relevant Recommendations or Observations from the UN Universal Periodic Review
Observation Date
No 2011
2017
No 2015
2017
Yes 2020

> Global Compact for Migration (GCM)

> Global Compact on Refugees (GCR)

REGIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS MECHANISMS

Regional Legal Instruments
Year of Ratification (Treaty) / Transposed (Directive) / Adoption (Regulation)
Observation Date
ACHPR, African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights 1989
1989
2017
ACRWC, African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child 1999
1999
2017
APRW, Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol) 2005
2005
2017

HEALTH CARE PROVISION

Provision of Healthcare in Detention Centres
Limited or Some Detention Centres Only
2020
Medical Screening upon Arrival at Detention Centres (within 48 hours)
Yes
1956
Psychological Evaluation upon Arrival at Detention Centres
Yes
1956
Doctor on Duty at Detention Centres
At least once a week
1956
Nurse on Duty at Detention Centres
Unknown
1956
Psychologist Visits to Detention Centres
Unknown
1956

HEALTH IMPACTS

COVID-19

Country Updates
As of 19 April Malawi did not have any reported cases of Covid-19. The country has also not taken any measures to lockdown businesses as the country’s High Court blocked such measures in a ruling on 19 April. However, there are growing concerns among civil society organisations about the impact the virus could have in the country’s overcrowded prisons, which also house immigration detainees. Malawi’s prisons reportedly confine more than 14,000 prisoners despite having a capacity of only 5,000. A joint statement issued by the Centre for Human Rights Advice Assistance and Education, Youth Watch Society, Paralegal Resource Centre, Southern Africa Litigation Centre and Child Rights Advocacy and Paralegal Aid Centre called on the country’s president to “release all prisoners who are serving time for minor offences including contempt of court, being idle and disorderly, being a rogue and vagabond, common nuisance and breach of the peace.” The statement also urges that priority be given “to those that are terminally ill, older persons, persons with TB and others chronic illnesses and those who have served a substantial part of their sentences” and urges “ the President to prevent the detention in prison of all migrants who are detained on immigration-related charges.” According to the International Detention Coalition (IDC), its local members in Malawi have raised concerns about migrants being “swept up” in four detention centres that were reportedly opened for quarantine purposes. After 14 days, migrants are to be transferred to immigration detention centres and prisons. IDC members have mentioned that conditions in Malawi’s detention centres are inhumane and inadequate as there is a lack of access to water or soap in the cells where migrants are being forced to stay. On 9 April 2020, a visit to Zomba Central Prison revealed that the facility has six buckets used by thousands of prisoners who wash their hands without soap. It is reported that new inmates are only being screened for HIV and TB but not Covid-19, which increases the risk of spread of Covid-19. One of the inmates expressed concern about the situation: “We were warned about coronavirus by the prison authorities. They advised us that we must wash hands regularly. My duty is to see that new detainees wash their hands before being admitted to the facility. There are no coronavirus testing kits at the clinic. After they are tested for TB and HIV, the new inmates are admitted and sent to the various blocks.” Malawi’s president also announced that his administration is to decongest the prisons by releasing prisoners and juveniles who committed petty offences and those having served a significant portion of their sentences for moderate crimes.
Did the country release immigration detainees as a result of the pandemic?
Unknown
2021
Did the country use legal "alternatives to detention" as part of pandemic detention releases?
Unknown
2021
Did the country Temporarily Cease or Restrict Issuing Detention Orders?
Yes
2021
Did the Country Adopt These Pandemic-Related Measures for People in Immigration Detention?
Yes (Yes) Yes Yes
2021
Did the Country Lock-Down Previously "Open" Reception Facilities, Shelters, Refugee Camps, or Other Forms of Accommodation for Migrant Workers or Other Non-Citizens?
Yes
2021
Were cases of COVID-19 reported in immigration detention facilities or any other places used for immigration detention purposes?
Yes
2021
Did the Country Cease or Restrict Deportations/Removals During any Period After the Onset of the Pandemic?
Unknown
2021
Did the Country Release People from Criminal Prisons During the Pandemic?
Yes
2020
Did Officials Blame Migrants, Asylum Seekers, or Refugees for the Spread of COVID-19?
Unknown
2021
Did the Country Restrict Access to Asylum Procedures?
Yes
2021
Did the Country Commence a National Vaccination Campaign?
Yes
2020
Were Populations of Concern Included/Excluded From the National Vaccination Campaign?
Included (Included) Included
2021