Dukwe refugees in last-ditch court bid

The Dukwe refugees are trying to halt their repatriation to Namibia in spite of government's undertaking that they will not be prosecuted.

13 July 2018 | Local News

Namibian refugees residing at the Dukwe camp have approached the Botswana High Court in a last-ditch attempt to stay in the neighbouring country.

They have launched an urgent application to stop the Botswana government from forcefully repatriating them back to Namibia.

This follows an announcement made this year by Botswana's defence minister Shaw Kgathi that the Dukwe refugees would have to leave the country by 11 July or risk being forcefully removed.

The Dukwe refugees fled to Botswana after a failed attempt to secede the then Caprivi Region from Namibia in 1999. There are an estimated 900 refugees believed to be living in Dukwe.

According to Kgathi, lawyers representing the refugees slapped his ministry with court papers, Gaborone-based radio station Yarona FM reported this week.

Responding to the developments, human rights watchdog Amnesty International slammed the Botswana government for trying to forcefully remove the Dukwe refugees.

“These men, women and children should not be forced to return home if their personal safety cannot be guaranteed,” said Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International's deputy director for southern Africa.

He said Botswana would be in breach of human rights laws, if it forcefully repatriated the refugees.

“A lot is at stake here; if the government of Botswana forces people to return to Namibia where they may face human rights violations, it will be breaching its international and national obligations under law.

“Botswana has an obligation protect and fulfil the human rights of every person who is in its territory. The government cannot ignore people who have nowhere to go to,” said Mwananyanda.

According to the watchdog, refugees based at Dukwe have accused the Botswana government of abandoning them. One refugee who spoke to Amnesty International anonymously said: “The Botswana government is pushing us. We are in a situation where we don't know where to go.”

Mwananyanda said Amnesty International was aware of another 16 former refugees, part of the initial group to flee the country, who have not received clearance from the Namibian government to return.

“This means that if they go back to Namibia they will be 'illegal immigrants' and will be detained in the Francistown Centre for illegal immigrants, and their future becomes uncertain. Amnesty International is concerned that this may result in statelessness, as well as the separation of families,” Mwananyanda said.

According to him, the Botswana authorities must ensure the dignity and safety of anyone who chooses to return to Namibia. He said the refugees should be given full information on their documentation.

Namibia's high commissioner in Botswana, Mbapeua Muvanga, however, said his country has always stood ready to welcome the Dukwe residents back.

“We have been saying that they are welcome to come back to Namibia. As far as Namibia is concerned, we are happy to welcome back,” Muvanga said.

Meanwhile, over 20 Dukwe refugees returned to Namibia in June, according to the New Era newspaper.

Namibia's commissioner for refugees, Likius Valombola, said in an interview that seven Namibian refugees registered for voluntary repatriation and were received on June 14.

“They are now with their families, well-integrated into their communities in Zambezi Region. Like those who have voluntarily repatriated before, they are well-settled within their communities and no one was persecuted or questioned. The government of Namibia is resolute in ensuring that they return in a dignified manner and are integrated into their communities without fear of persecution,” Valombola said.

According to the commissioner, there was no point in the refugees extending their stay in Botswana.

“The government is ready to receive its citizens back home with open hands because there is no point for them to live in Botswana as refugees, as per the tripartite commission between the Namibia and Botswana governments and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on voluntary repatriation,” Valombola said.

Meanwhile, Botswana's decision to ask the Dukwe refugees to return home stems from its position that it found Namibia to be politically stable.

According to its minister for defence, following the cessation of their refugee status in December 2015 and a subsequent Botswana High Court case that interdicted their repatriation, they should go back to Namibia.

The Botswana government, Kgathi said, considered Namibia to be stable, safe and secure, with well-functioning governing institutions that observe the rule of law.

This view, Kgathi said, was also supported by the UNHCR, as evidenced by the decision to invoke the cessation of the refugee status granted to those at Dukwe.

OGONE TLHAGE

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