Asylum seekers appeal to Khama
Gaborone – Asylum seekers from Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Sudan and Uganda who claim they have been denied refugee status in Botswana have petitioned President Ian Khama to come to their rescue. The asylum seekers said in a statement that the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) office in Botswana was to blame for their plight. “Some of us have been in the country for up to 12 years. We are approximately 45 in this category. We are not allowed to work, we are not allowed to leave Dukwi Refugee Camp and thus no freedom of movement. We are not allowed to enroll for tertiary education and we are not allowed to question UNHCR on our future,” read the statement. They say some of them have had their applications for refugee status rejected thrice by the government. “According to the Universal Rights, UNHCR was supposed to have helped us but to date we do not know where our future lies. We cannot go back to our home countries for fear of losing our lives. Botswana doesn’t want us on its soil and UNHCR, which is supposed to help us, is unwilling to do so. We don’t know where we belong, our future is at stake. Actually even birds are better than us.” According to the asylum seekers, they have been experiencing hardship during their stay in the country and out of desperation, some of them have resorted to crime. “Some people have lost their lives, whilst others have been imprisoned. With such bad experiences, we have no more interest in Botswana and thus the only solution is getting a third county of asylum. We don’t want anything to do with the Botswana status. More than 10 years is enough, we are tired of this country,” they said. They say they have made many attempts to try and communicate their grievances to the Minister of Justice, Defence and Security but all their efforts had been blocked. Similar efforts were made to reach the President but also without success. “Recently we wrote a letter to the President and the minister but still we have a feeling that the blockage still exists. We feel there is an improper managing of refugees affairs by the authenticated officers under the Ministry of Justice, Defence and Security. We believe that the officers under this ministry are also co-benefitters (sic) in our overstaying in this country just like former and current UNHCR officials. UNHCR, as one of the implementers of Universal Rights, to our surprise, is the violator of the very rights they are supposed to be protecting. How will such rights be respected?” “When we go to the government officers, we are told that the government has done (sic) its final decision on our cases and that we should go to UNHCR for help but when we go to UNHCR, we are told that the government has not pressurised them enough to help us,” the refugees said. They said since they cannot go back home, they want help from President Khama, with “Article 15 sub article 2 which states that – no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied right to change his nationality – to help us by enforcing the respected laws of this country.” Deputy permanent secretary for Political Affairs in the Office of the President Ross Sanotosaid the issue of the asylum seekers was a “difficult one”. “After September 11 (2001), countries that would normally accept asylum seekers became reluctant to do so. The UNHCR depended on the benevolence of those countries. There is now no leeway for the UNHCR. The asylum seekers should individually make it a point to see the Dukwi Refugee Camp commandant who should take up their matter,” he said. UNHCR Protection Assistant officer, Madoda Nasha said the rejected asylum seekers do not meet the stipulated requirements for refugee status. “If they seek refugee status, they have to fall within the framework of the Convention and Protocol on Refugees. They cannot re-settle an asylum seeker in a third country when the person does not fall within the framework. The asylum seekers had their applications rejected by the Refugee Advisory Committee because they do not meet the requirements,” said Madoda. He said they don’t only recommend cases to be accepted but even to be rejected.