Asylum seekers, Gaborone on a collision course
By Mpho Tebele
Gaborone – The Botswana government and asylum seekers and refugees in the country are on a collision course following reports that the latter were recently ill-treated and subjected to callous conditions.
The asylum seekers have made serious allegations that their detention at the Francistown Centre for Illegal Immigrants (FCII) was comparable to hell claiming they were not only assaulted by prison officials but their complaints that their children were sexually molested were ignored by the officials.
But the allegations of human rights abuse were refuted by permanent secretary in the Ministry of Defence, Justice and Security, Segakweng Tsiane, who said the government was not aware of such inhumane acts, adding that the alleged abuses had not been mentioned to the officials who processed the asylum applications.
Accusing the asylum seekers of cooking up stories and not being genuine, Tsiane said they provided them with the wrong information during interviews on what forced them to leave their native countries.
“Some claimed to have been hurt when fleeing their native countries due to wars that had stirred up, but later on we saw reports in some local newspapers claiming that the scars were from assault they suffered at the centre. This shows that those people are not genuine and cannot be trusted. Yes, some of the asylum seekers have in the past been granted refugee status because they had gone through horrible things, but it is disappointing for some to ride through what others have suffered,” Tsiane said.
On reports that some of the asylum seekers fled the country following a Court of Appeal decision, Tsiane said she was not aware where the asylum seekers had fled to, as they were yet to establish how many of them left.
The court ruled that the failed asylum-seekers were illegal immigrants who were not protected by Botswana’s constitution or entitled to the privileges of “recognised” refugees.
Tsiane said she was willing and prepared to receive any information detailing any form of brutality meted on the alleged victims.
But she disputed reports that the centre treated asylum seekers like prisoners and further dismissed allegations that after being assaulted, they were taken to the hospital handcuffed like prisoners. She explained that there were currently 2,137 refugees at the Dukwi Refugee Camp and 134 rejected asylum seekers at the centre for illegal immigrants and that none of them were living in prison cells.
Tsiane also denied that the asylum-seekers were being kept in a prison and that they were constantly subjected to abuse.
“What I can say is that it is not true. Yes, they share the same campus [as ordinary convicts] but the structures are divided. Convicted prisoners are confined to the cells but asylum-seekers are not,” she said.
The asylum seekers accuse police and intelligence operatives of violently suppressing their protest, beating even children and a pregnant woman.
The spokesperson for the asylum seekers, Felix Kakula, accused the government of ill-treating asylum seekers in the country
According to Kakula, the asylum seekers stayed for years at the centre something that destroyed their future.
He said that their stay at the centre for long time without any progress in their lives on its own was like staying in prison hence those who had a chance to flee to neighbouring countries did so.
“Those asylum seekers were running away and they did so in the eyes of government, they ran away from being taken back to the centre where they suffered for years. Among them were minors, but they spent years without access to education, something that frustrated them,” said Kakula.
Tsiane said the government is working with the authorities in the DRC to repatriate the remaining 134 refugees whose applications for asylum were rejected.