UNHCR will continue supporting refugees financially
Windhoek – There is a possibility that the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) will no longer withdraw its operations from Namibia next year, as was alluded before. It will, however, be operating from its headquarters in South Africa, says Nkrumah Mushelenga, Commissioner in the Directorate of Refugee Administration in Namibia’s Ministry of Home Affairs and Immigration.
Last year, the United Nations (UN) refugee agency announced its plans to phase out operations in Namibia by 2015. UNHCR Country Representative, Lawrence Oba Mgbangson, made the announcement during the commemoration of Refugees Day at Osire Refugee Resettlement in the Otjozondjupa Region in June 2013.
According to Mgbangson, UNHCR had decided to move away from just care and maintenance, where refugees are protected and assisted, and handover protection and assistance responsibilities to the Namibian government to find more durable and lasting solutions to their protracted refugee situation.
Following that, it was reported that the UNHCR was advising the Namibian government to agree to the local integration of some 2 400 former Angolan refugees from the Osire.
However, Mushelenga told The Southern Times in an interview that the refugee agency has reversed its decision and will no longer phase out its operations from the country but will serve Namibia from its headquarters in Pretoria, South Africa.
“First, they (UNCHR) said they will close their office and their budget so that the money can be sent to Middle-East countries where there is more crisis than Namibia but now they’re saying they will keep the budget and will be operating from South Africa,” Mushelenga said.
Responding to concerns whether Namibia is ready to shoulder the responsibility of thousands of refugees in the country, Mushelenga emphasised that the Southern African state “has been ready and will remain ready to host refugees as provided for by Article 9 of the Namibian Constitution despite the challenges”.
He said the government is negotiating with UN to find an amicable solution towards addressing the issue of refugees in Namibia before the due date next year.
“The discussion between the parties is at an advanced stage, with the stakeholders expected to reach the memorandum of understanding of what needs to be done before the UNCHR closes its doors,” he said.
Currently, there are more than 4 000 refugees in Namibia that will need the UNHCR budget to meet the government half way in order to provide them with food, water, shelter, medical, care, sanitation, and security.
Mushelenga further noted that the government is trying to implement the UNCHR 10-Point Plan of Action to ensure the protection of asylum seekers. He explained that the 10-Point Plan proposes a number of actions to prevent both forcible returns of asylum seekers to a country where they are persecuted as well as irregular onwards movements.
“It is a key requirement that asylum seekers have access to fair and efficient asylum procedures and humane living conditions,” he said.
The UNHCR 10-Point Plan of Action, Mushelenga said, calls for clear border management systems to ensure that asylum seekers are processed separately from illegal migrants as early as possible.
“They should not be detained unduly and those who have special needs such as minors, persons with health problems and victims of trauma should be treated accordingly,” he said.
Mushelenga further indicated that the country is on the right track to integrate the registered 2 400 former Angolan refugees into the Namibian society, as it was approved by Cabinet.
So far, 750 Angolans were successfully locally integrated and were provided with permanent residence permits by the Ministry of Home Affairs and Immigration.
The remaining group is currently waiting for the Angolan government to first issue them with passports for them to be considered for endorsement of the permanent residence permit status by Namibian immigration authorities.
A Profiling and Interviewing Committee for Former Angolan Refugees was set up to profile Angolan refugees who applied for local integration, which comprises ministries of Home Affairs and Immigration, Education, Safety and Security, Health and Social Services and international agency, UNHCR and Africa Humanitarian Action.
The Angolan refugees had fled their country during its war for independence from 1961 to 1975, and civil war from 1975 to 2002 and they are currently housed and cared for at Osire.