‘I Fear No More’ - Community Policing in Emergency Camps
Protecting children in emergencies
At Jombo Primary School in Chikwawa District, southern Malawi, a suggestion box that holds the deepest fears of those displaced by Cyclone Freddy greets you in the sunlight. Since the storm and subsequent flooding destroyed their homes in March of this year, the box has been filled with grievances about dwindling food aid amidst escalating hunger.
Ironically, some men have been caught selling their families' food rations for liquor.
"In April, our community policing forum expelled two men from the camp for such acts of neglect, torture, and gender-based violence (GBV). This was occurring while women were laboring under the sun, picking seasonal vegetables and fruits to feed their hungry children," says Francis Masamba, chairperson of the forum.
One of the affected women shares her disbelief upon discovering the disappearance of maize and blankets her family had received from a humanitarian organization. "The man had been neglecting my needs and those of our three children even before the floods destroyed our homes and forced us into this camp," she confesses. She praises the community policing forum for protecting the rights and well-being of women and children, especially those at risk of starvation, malnutrition, and rights violations.
The camp houses 3,115 people, including 1,442 children under the age of 18. Over 450 families have since returned home, paving the way for schooling and reconstruction to resume. For the remaining occupants, the community-based policing group of 42 members offers protection against rights abuses, with neglect being a primary concern.
"Our forum, established in 2014, exists to protect women and children from all forms of violence, including child marriages and sexual exploitation. Most cases at the camp, however, involve property thieves who neglect their families and sell relief items for personal gain," explains Masamba.
When the rainstorms struck the floodplain, the forum members conducted search and rescue operations, ensuring no one was left behind. These operations primarily benefitted children, women, the sick, persons with disabilities, and the elderly. They have since been assisting the police, camp leadership, and child protection workers in maintaining law and order.
UNICEF, supported financially by the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) and the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO), is aiding the Malawi Police Service in boosting social protection interventions in several emergency evacuation centres.
Jombo is among the selected camps in Chikwawa where community policing groups received three whistles, three torches, and reflective bibs for each member. "We patrol the camp day and night to protect lives, property, and rights. If we hear a child crying or someone threatening them, we swiftly intervene to get to the root of the problem," Masamba assures.
Sub-Inspector Fortune Salisbury, who coordinates community policing at Nchalo Police Station, notes the importance of these groups in maintaining law and order. "Security and social protection systems collapse and rights abuses increase when disasters strike. Most people only focus on their survival, neglecting the well-being of vulnerable groups," he explains.
Godfrey Khuleya, Jombo camp leader, lauds the community policing group for addressing rights violations and exploitation, which often increase during humanitarian emergencies. "These volunteers are our eyes and ears to ensure no one is excluded, short-changed, or exploited," he praises.
Chisomo Christopher, one of the 846 girls under the age of 18 at the camp, now lives without fear.
"I was frightened when we first arrived after our house in Ngoza Village was destroyed by the floods. Living with so many strangers was unfamiliar and intimidating. Now, thanks to the police forum, I live peacefully. My only worry is going to school hungry and in dirty clothes," she recounts.