Bots, Nam assure reluctant refugees of a dignified home return

Gaborone- Namibian refugees who have been living at the Dukwi Refugee Camp in Botswana since late 1998 say they are not convinced by assurances given to them by the two governments’ to repatriate them back home in a dignified manner.

Botswana, Namibian and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) recently held a tripartite commission meeting in Francistown to discuss modalities for the repatriation of the Namibian refugees at a refugee centre situated some 520 km northwest of Gaborone.

The meeting follows the December 31, 2015 deadline set by Botswana for the refugees to return home. In March this year, Botswana invoked the cessation clause for close to 1000 refugees still remaining at the camp.

The group forms part of thousands of Namibians, who fled to Botswana following a failed attempt by the separatist group, Caprivi Liberation Army to secede the Zambezi region from the rest of the country in 1998.

Since 1999 the government of Botswana, together with the government of Namibia and the UNHCR, has facilitated the voluntary repatriation of about 2,000 Namibians. 

But some refugees have made it clear that they won’t return to Namibia without assurance by that government that they won’t be persecuted.

Namibia’s Minister of Home Affairs and Immigration Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana, speaking at the Tripartite Commission meeting said, “Namibia is committed to undertaking this (repatriation) process in an orderly, humane, dignified and law-conforming manner. The doors, gates and borders are open in Namibia for the Namibians to come back home, they are welcome.”

She added that: “as we have just celebrated our 25th independence which goes by the slogan Economic prosperity for all, our country wants you to join others who are working to develop it. As a unit we could develop our country to greater heights.”

She emphasized that the Namibians should not hesitate to return to Namibia because it is their rightful home.

“The Namibian refugees in Botswana are most welcome to return home, not only to enjoy the peace and stability but also to contribute to the realization of a more prosperous nation .You should have no fears at all about coming back to Namibia,” Iivula-Ithana assured the reluctant refugees.

According to the Minister, proper arrangements had been made to have refugees assisted with basic needs citing that UNHCR has made available grants to be given to each one of them which come in the form of a $300.00 grant, $100.00 for their children and $200.00 for education.

Botswana’s Minister of Defence Justice and Security ,Shaw Kgathi also assured the refugees that they are safe to return home saying the reasons that made them to be refugees have since ended with their country being democratic and peaceful.

Kgathi said they have made a commitment to facilitate a journey in which they would want to go and see where they will be relocated before the final relocation.

“After several meetings with our counterparts from Namibia, we reached a resolution that your refugees’ status be ceased. But let me point out that the repatriation process will be on a voluntary basis with each one of you assisted as an individual not a group; the process started with immediate effect and you will be given until December 31st this year for you to have all left the camp,” said Kgathi.

According to Kgathi throughout the whole process they are going to make sure that they are assisted with everything which is due to them.

“But after the deadline of your refugee status has expired, your stay in Botswana is going to be completely changed as you will be required to have proper documents such as residents and work permits to guarantee your stay,” he said.

However the Namibian refugees’ representative at Dukwi, Felix Kakula expressed concern that the consultation process was not done to ensure that their interests as refugees were also taken into consideration.

He added that a decision might have been taken by the leadership to repatriate them back to Namibia on the pretext that everything is back to normal in their country.

“We believe that prior to a decision to have us returned we should have been consulted; there was no dialogue,” he said.

He further noted that:  “Botswana has been a good host for the past 17 years we had been staying here and we cannot forget that kind of hospitality. We are surprised by the change of heart by the Botswana government and we are against that. Not only do we reject that but the promises that on our return home we will be given some incentives which includes grants and building materials to set up structure is an illusion and we don’t accept that arrangement.”

According to Kakula, Botswana as their haven of protection for over the years, should rather give them proper documents for them to have a guaranteed stay instead of making a commitment and extra efforts to have them returned to a country they have feared all their lives.

May 2015
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