The Refugee Camp at Sinda Misale
THOSE of Jehovah’s witnesses who fled from Malawi to Zambia were gathered into a refugee camp near the border of the two countries. This camp was called Sinda Misale. Several reports, including one by Zambia’s Rural Development Minister, Mr. Reuben Kamanga, indicated that about 19,000 of Jehovah’s witnesses were refugees there.
Since Zambia had not invited the Witnesses into their country, they were treated as unwanted visitors. The camp was isolated by security forces so that there would be no free access to it.
Some supplies were provided by authorities. In addition, money and supplies donated by Jehovah’s witnesses all over the world poured into their branch offices. For instance, in South Africa alone nearly 1,000 canvas tarpaulins and 157 large crates of clothing, in addition to blankets and other supplies were sent. These got through to the refugees.
The South African Witnesses arranged another large shipment. It included money for 10,000 new blankets, medicines and other necessities. Medical doctors also volunteered, and these were available to go. Indeed, such offers and contributions from Jehovah’s witnesses in other lands were more than enough to provide the refugees in Zambia with all their needs.
However, after the early shipments, Jehovah’s witnesses were informed that no more supplies would be allowed into the camp. Efforts were then made to send the supplies through the Red Cross, but these efforts failed.
The United Nations sent its representatives to Zambia to investigate the situation. When, on December 19, it was learned that one of these officials, Mr. Emmanuel Dazie, was in Zambia, Jehovah’s witnesses tried in every way possible to see him. They wanted to learn what was happening to their Christian brothers in the camp and to make arrangements to get relief supplies to them. But to no avail. Mr. Dazie brushed off the Witnesses, saying that he was heavily booked and could not arrange to give them any time for an interview.
In the meantime, over 350 witnesses died at the camp of Sinda Misale, according to available reports. Bad water, malnutrition and lack of sufficient medical supplies were the causes. The greater number of those who died were children.
Finally, officials from Malawi and Zambia determined that Jehovah’s witnesses at Sinda Misale would be sent back to Malawi. Arrangements were made to do that, unknown to the Witnesses at the camp.
The Transfer—A Deception
In December, Jehovah’s witnesses at the camp were told by officials that they were going to be moved, but to another place in Zambia. Such a move was not objectionable to them. But they were not told the truth. The actual destination was Malawi.
That the Witnesses were deceived as to the destination is clearly documented. Over one hundred interviews with Jehovah’s witnesses who were actually involved have proved this conclusively. According to London’s Sunday Telegraph, they had been told that their destination was another camp in Zambia:
“On December 20, 21 and 22, a fleet of 52 lorries and 13 buses driven by Zambians arrived at Sinda Misale. According to an African journalist who visited the camp . . . Jehovah’s Witnesses were told to board transport for another camp in Zambia.”
The United Nations representatives did nothing to thwart the deception. In fact, they became a party to it. The Times of Zambia stated on December 23:
“The 19,000 Watchtower refugees who have just been repatriated to Malawi ‘were happy to return to their country.’ This was stated yesterday by UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Dr. Hugo Idoyaga. . . .
“Dr. Idoyaga said he and a director of the UNHCR from Geneva, Mr. Skodjoe Dazie, had helped supervise the voluntary repatriation.”
About two weeks later, the Times of January 6 said: “The United Nations high commissioner for refugees in Zambia, Dr. Hugo Idoyaga, said the refugees had been happy to go back.”
But that was untrue. The Witnesses did not want to go back under the conditions that then prevailed in Malawi. Indeed, had they not been forced to flee for their very lives, they would not have gone to Zambia in the first place. That is why the Times of Zambia had correctly reported earlier, on December 18, that Jehovah’s witnesses “prefer to remain in Zambia.” Also, the London Sunday Telegraph said: “Despite the official assurances, the Jehovah’s Witnesses did not go back willingly.”
Scores of interviews with the Witnesses who were involved in the transfer verify this. Following is a summary of the situation told by these Witnesses:
“First of all, these brothers [that is, Jehovah’s witnesses] explained that it is not true that the brothers who were at Sinda Misale happily agreed to return to Malawi. The police and other government officials who supervised the move cheated the brothers by telling them that they were moving them to a new site in the Petauke area.
“The officials waited until all the leading brothers and others boarded the buses which were guarded by police, and then they told the brothers that they were being taken to Malawi.”
The Witnesses from Sinda Misale were to be taken to a camp in Malawi at Lilongwe. There, at an old airfield, Malawian officials and hundreds of Malawian security forces waited for them.
How many of Jehovah’s witnesses actually arrived there? This cannot be determined accurately at the present time. Eyewitness reports are incomplete.
One report by the Sunday Telegraph of London does say this: “On the 60-mile journey from Sinda Misale to Lilongwe . . . thousands abandoned the buses and lorries and fled back into the bush.” The newspaper also states that an “African journalist travelled all the way to Lilongwe on the last convoy, which had set off with 3,000 refugees from Sinda Misale. Eight buses arrived and only 29 Witnesses disembarked.” However, such reports have not been confirmed as yet.
But what can be confirmed is what happened to those who did return.
[Map on page 20]
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