Bots allays fears of refugee camp closure
By Mpho Tebele
Gaborone-Botswana’s Ministry of Defence, Justice and Security this week allayed fears that the Dukwi Refugee Camp faces closure.
This follows unconfirmed reports in the local press that Botswana was contemplating closing down the camp in the northern part of the country.
The Ministry’s Public Relations Officer Samma Tabudi said “…that there are no plans to close down Dukwi Refugee Camp”.
With close to 3 000 refugees and asylum seekers still in Botswana, Tabudi said the government continues to make sure that their needs are catered for.
Dukwi was first established around the late ’70s and early ’80s when Zimbabweans were crossing into Botswana in large numbers when running away from the guerrilla warfare against the Ian Douglas Smith regime.
An estimated 1 923 refugees remain at the camp mainly from the neighbouring Zimbabwe.
About 928 Namibian refugees might return to their native country as soon as possible provided the Namibian government assures them safety
Acting permanent secretary in the Ministry of Defence Justice and Security, Dimpho Mogami was also quoted as saying that the Botswana Government was committed to continue receiving and protecting refugees in accordance with the provision of international human rights instruments governing the status of refugees.
“We are committed as the government to ensure that refugees’ safety and basic needs are met within the available resources at our disposal,” she is quoted as saying.
Recently, she pointed out that many people had been forced to travel long and dangerous routes searching for safety and majority had perished on their way mainly in deserts and seas.
And this has forced the public and institutions such as United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to come up with campaigns to sensitise the world on the plight of refugees.
The unconfirmed reports relating to the closure of Dukwi follows the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR)’s announcement that it is currently realigning its operations ahead of shutting down its office in Botswana.
Late last year, Senior Regional External Relations Officer with the UNHCR Regional Office for Southern Africa, Tina Ghelli said the commission is realigning its programme in Botswana and will be winding down its operations end of June 2016.
Botswana’s refugee population, Ghelli said, has drastically reduced to below 5 000 and that the capacity of government to independently contain refugees has grown since the inception of Dukwi Refugee Camp some three decades ago.
“As the number of refugees in Botswana have found a durable solution, either through voluntary repatriation or resettlement to a third country, the number of refugees at Dukwi Refugee Camp has decreased by 40 percent,” Ghelli explained in a respond to a questionnaire.
She added: “UNHCR is, therefore realigning, its programmes in Botswana. Similar approaches have been taken in a number of UNHCR offices globally where governments have strengthened their response to refugees.”
“For example, UNHCR ended its presence in Lesotho following the end of apartheid when most South Africans returned home, in Swaziland when the number of refugees declined following the end of the civil war in Mozambique and most recently in Namibia the end of December last year.
“This is after most of the Angolan refugees were returned home or were granted alternative status,”she said.
Ghelli said the governments of Lesotho, Swaziland and Namibia had assumed their international responsibilities towards refugees by providing them protection and assistance while UNHCR is still continuing to support the respective governments from its regional office in Pretoria.
“This is the same in Botswana where the government has demonstrated its ability to ensure the legal and social protection of refugees. UNHCR will continue to provide support for various programmes aimed assisting refugees,” she said.
She revealed that UHNCR is changing its presence to a national office, thus the commission will maintain a physical existence in the country and will provide additional support from UNHCR’s regional office for Southern Africa, based in Pretoria.