Bots to deport foreign gays, sex workers


Gaborone –The government of Botswana has issued a directive that will see the expulsion of foreign gays and sex workers from the country. The directive, addressed to various stakeholder organisations among them the police service, National AIDS Co-ordinating Agency (NACA) and the ministries of health, labour and home affairs, says they should be on the lookout for suspected foreign sex workers and homosexuals.

Government says if arrested, individuals from such groups will be profiled so that they could in future be referred to the Ministry of Health for medical interventions. Authorities in police service and the department of immigration have been told to tighten the noose on those found to be engaging in the acts by making arrests and deportations.

It has since emerged that there are fears that the powers of arrest given to the police and other law enforcement agencies like the department of immigration will lead to abuse, impunity and even witch-hunt. 

According to the directive, foreigners’ residence and/or work permits will also be revoked and the individuals will be deported if they are suspected to be sex workers in the country. Reports indicate that President Ian Khama has adopted a ‘silent diplomacy’ approach over these controversial issues and his government although acknowledging these groups’ existence has refused to decriminalise their practices.

A recent study presented by the Ministry of Health at the recent National AIDS Council revealed that homosexuals and sex workers are abundant in Botswana and continue to be among the most vulnerable groups in the HIV/AIDS war, as they do not have programmes geared towards addressing their needs and situations.

The objective of the study was, among others, to estimate the incidence and prevalence of HIV infection among Female Sexual Workers and Men who have Sex with Men (MSM) in Botswana abandon their law enforcement role by coercing the culprits into having sex with them to avoid jail.

Breaking down the findings, the health ministry said that 49.5 percent of sex workers were between 20-29 years, 50.9 percent had steady boyfriends and 51.4 percent had been to senior secondary school while 60 percent had no other employment.

While he said he was not aware of the directive, the Minister of Labour and Foreign Affairs, Edwin Batshu, said this past week, “we may only be involved after the police have made some arrests because they are the ones who enforce the law.” Last week a Member of Parliament John Toto stirred controversy at a public gathering when he stated that homosexuality should be discouraged because it is one of the factors that cause HIV/AIDS. 

Commenting on the directive, and Toto’s remarks, the Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA) dismissed the allegations that gays and sex workers were the most vulnerable.

On the contrary, BONELA’s director Uyapo Ndadi protested that:  “We know that HIV prevalence for this cohort, from the latest study by Ministry of Health is significantly lower than the national one. The national one is 17.6 percent as compared to 9 percent among men having sex with other men.”

BONELA called on Toto to retract and apologise for what they say are inaccurate and misleading remarks. “We are acutely aware that politicians like Mr Festus Mogae have in the past said they did not wantto lose elections by supporting gays.  We caution politicians not to seek to win elections by persecuting gays,” says Ndadi.  In 2011, Mogae revealed that during his tenure he advised the police not to harass or arrest gays and prostitutes.

November 2013
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