UNHCR leaves Botswana in refugee lurch

> Bakang Mhaladi

GABORONE-BOTSWANA will be left with a US$2 million annual bill, starting next year, after the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) announced it is withdrawing funding for the welfare of refugees.

Botswana’s Minister of Defence, Justice and Security, Shaw Kgathi told the country’s National Assembly this week that the UNHCR intends to reduce involvement in the refugees’ welfare at the end of the year.

This means the government has to foot the cost of looking after 2,113 asylum seekers at Dukwi Refugee Camp north of the second city, Francistown.

The majority are Namibians (919), followed by Zimbabweans (688), Somalians (312) and Burundians (184). The rest are from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Eritrea.

Kgathi said talks with the respective countries’ governments over repatriation are on-going.

With the UN agency scaling down, the cost of the refugees’ upkeep would be transferred to the Botswana government at an estimated P20 million per year. This includes their welfare, health and education.

“Our policy as government, regarding refugee management is that refugee status should not be permanent, and that, eventually refugees should be facilitated to return to their respective countries as a lasting, durable solution,” said Kgathi.

He said Windhoek and Harare, due to the large numbers of refugees from the respective countries, have been engaged.

“Regarding Namibians, consultations are on-going with government of Namibia regarding the implications and opportunities arising out of the Court Judgment relating to the assistance clause. I’m also happy to inform this Honourable House that Namibians continue to register for voluntary repatriation,” Kgathi said.

The Botswana High Court earlier this year halted the repatriation of 737 Namibian refugees who argued it was not yet safe to return home.

Botswana says it will improve management of refugees by enhancing the operational efficiency of its refugees Advisor Committee.

“This way, we’ll ensure only genuine asylum seekers are granted refugee status, and the Refugee Recognition and Control Act will also be amended to support the envisaged improvement to the management of refugees in Botswana,” Kgathi told parliament.

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