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1 Dez 2023

Charles Pensulo, Aljazeera

Malawi: Details of secretive farm workers export deal to Israel raises more concerns about safety and repatriation measures

Shutterstock (licensed)

"Apprehension in Malawi as government sends workers to Israel amid Gaza war"

The departure of hundreds of Malawians to Israel to work as farm labourers has sparked a debate within the Southern African country, which is looking to raise much-needed foreign currency amid a cash crunch.

On November 25, the first tranche of 221 workers left for Israel. Subsequent flights are expected in the days to come, according to a statement from the Ministry of Labour, which did not mention numbers.

Details about the programme were first made public on November 23 by Kondwani Nankhumwa, leader of the main opposition Democratic Progressive Party as he spoke in parliament, questioning the secrecy of the deal and describing it as “an evil transaction”...

Authorities from the two countries have made assurances that the recruits will not be involved in warfare. But commentators are nevertheless questioning the timing and wondering if Malawi can repatriate its citizens if anything goes wrong as the war continues...

An unknown number of Malawians may also be trapped in Gaza.

After the war began, Chakwera called for a “cessation of violence by all parties” and the end to military action against known civilian targets in Gaza. He also called for the safety of 300 Malawians in Gaza who are believed to either be residents there or on pilgrimage in Israel. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is yet to confirm if they have since returned home.

When asked about them and the workers who left Malawi last week, a ministry spokesperson directed Al Jazeera to the Labour Ministry, which did not respond.

The Centre for Social Accountability and Transparency, a nonprofit based in Lilongwe, has said it is engaging the National Assembly to address the concerns of Malawians that workers sent to Israel might be at risk of bodily harm or worse.

William Kambwandira, its executive director, described the arrangement as “unfortunate” and akin to modern-day slavery.

“Malawians are interested to know whether this is a government-to-government deal and what are the terms of reference for this deal, including what safety measures have been put in place to protect the young Malawians,” he told Al Jazeera...

In a statement on November 24, Secretary for Labour Wezi Kayira said the export of working personnel will also involve other countries and not only Israel, but there was no mention of any other countries.

“The safety and security of the youth is paramount,” the statement read. “On the Israel labour export, the youth will work at certified and approved locations which are classified as fit and safe environments.”...

In a recent interview, Michael Lotem, the Israeli ambassador to Kenya, Uganda and Malawi, dismissed the concerns, saying the young people are not going to the Gaza Strip but will work in Israel...

Reports of the Malawian contingent signing an agreement to indemnify Israel have also surfaced on social media. Al Jazeera could not independently verify this agreement.

“I understand that in this war, thousands of missiles have been and continue to be shot by Israel’s enemy at mostly civilian targets over Israel. I understand that many but not all the missiles are being shot down by anti-missiles systems but that some of the missiles hit their targets and that the hits as well as shrapnel can kill and injure persons [and] there is danger of terror attacks due to the war,” it reads...