Crisis as scores of asylum seekers disappear from Bots refugee camp
By Mpho Tebele
Gaborone – The whereabouts of more than 350 rejected asylum seekers, who were accommodated at Dukwi Refugee Camp in northern Botswana are unknown, it has emerged.
This comes on the heels of recent reports that at least 30 rejected asylum seekers have already fled to neighbouring Zimbabwe.
This was also after the rejected asylum seekers’ lawyer Morgan Moseki had unsuccessfully appealed to government to let his clients reside at the Dukwi Refugee Camp following a Court Appeal Order that government was not obliged to accommodate them at the camp.
Spokesperson for the rejected asylum seekers, Samuel Nondo, said they held a meeting with government officials on 1 December and this resulted in some of his colleagues fearing that they would be sent to the centre for illegal immigrants to be detained for an indefinite period.
He said the rejected asylum seekers were extremely delighted that they had been accommodated at the Dukwi Refugee Camp only for the Court of Appeal to set aside the decision of the lower court, which had ruled that their detention at the centre for illegal immigrants was unlawful. A majority of the asylum seekers are from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia.
They have in the past argued that if Botswana was unable to accommodate them at the refugee camp, it should allow them to apply for asylum status in other neighbouring countries rather than be deported to their countries of origin.
Information reaching this publication suggests that the majority of refugees have fled to South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe.
The deputy permanent secretary in the Ministry of Defence Justice and Security, Ikotlhaeng Bagopi, confirmed that they addressed asylum seekers and informed them that they would be transported back to the centre for illegal immigrants.
“We also informed them that those who wish to go back to their countries will be taken back and those who [would] like to go to other countries will be allowed to do so. But as we speak, I’m not sure if there are those who have fled from the Dukwi Refugee Camp,” he said.
The asylum seekers, who are accompanied by children, have complained that their stay at the centre for illegal immigrants poses health risks, as they were subjected to unforgiving living conditions.
They have also argued that they should not be accommodated at the centre for illegal immigrants because they were not illegal immigrants but asylum seekers.
On the other hand, the Botswana government had argued that when an asylum seeker’s application is rejected, he or she qualifies to be an illegal immigrant.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has also weighed in arguing that the continued detention of asylum seekers at the Francistown Centre for Illegal Immigrants was against the spirit of human rights.
“The detention of asylum-seekers and refugees has serious and lasting effects on individuals and families. UNHCR is concerned about the use of immigration detention, particularly of children,” UNHCR said in a written statement.