Windhoek — Botswana has taken a decision to finally enforce a cessation clause with respect to the status of Namibian refugees living at Dukwe, which was invoked in 2015.
This directive by the Botswana Ministry of Defence, Justice and Security in that country came after Botswana's President Mokgweetsi Masisi visited Windhoek in April and said Namibian refugees at Dukwe, Botswana are no longer regarded as refugees by his government but as illegal immigrants.
Masisi said his government has revoked the refugee status of the group.
Approximately 2,000 of the 3,000 people who fled to Botswana have returned home since the beginning of the voluntary repatriation process, funded by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and supported by the two governments.
UNHCR and its tripartite partners Namibia and Botswana are in unison that conditions in Namibia are safe for a dignified voluntary return of the Dukwe refugees, as none of the Namibians that have so far returned home has been victimised, harassed or persecuted, contrary to the propaganda being spread by some of the hard-core refugees at Dukwe who have secessionist tendencies.
Nonetheless, the remaining group ignored the December 2015 deadline to return and lodged an appeal in the Botswana High Court against an initial forced repatriation, saying they may be arrested, tortured or detained without trial if they returned home.
Concerted efforts by the Namibian government and the United Nations to return the refugees to Namibia and integrate them into society have had little success, with the remaining 880 of them refusing to return home.
In a public notice posted on the Botswana government website on Wednesday, the Ministry of Defence, Justice and Security announced that a decision has been taken to enforce a cessation clause with respect to Namibian refugee status which was invoked in 2015.
"All refugees are required to register in person for voluntary repatriation to Namibia from 11th May 2018 to 11th July 2018," the notice reads.
The defence ministry said those who register will be facilitated to return to Namibia as per the provisions of the Tripartite Agreement between the governments of Botswana and Namibia and the UNHCR.
The registration times are from 7.30am - 4.30pm on Monday to Friday.
Thousands of people from the then Caprivi Region fled to Botswana in 1999 after a botched attempt to secede the region from Namibia. The rebellion, led by former member of parliament Mishake Muyongo, left 11 people dead, among them six members of the security forces. About 300 suspected rebel fighters and civilian sympathisers were arrested, while some, including Muyongo, fled abroad.
Many of those who returned from Dukwe have now been integrated into their communities without prosecution.
The Botswana High Court in January 2016 halted the deportation of the remaining 880 refugees after the deportation deadline of December 31, 2015 had passed.
During Masisi's visit to Namibia he said his government would exhaust all avenues to ensure that the group leaves Botswana.
"We will follow procedure and exhaust all we can. But you see they are not Batswana, they are Namibians. They are not refugees - they [have] become illegal immigrants," he told his Namibian counterpart President Hage Geingob during the courtesy visit in April.
"There are laws that govern what you do and how you conduct business of illegal immigrants and that will follow. If there are Batswana who are also in Namibia as illegal immigrants, I am sure the laws of Namibia will also result in them being assisted to go home.
"So, we await the outcome of possible engagement but we want to make this clear."
The Botswana president added that his government firmly believes that there exists no threat for the group if they returned to Namibia, and that their safety and well-being are guaranteed.
President Geingob had also made an impassioned appeal to the group to return home, saying their safety is top on the government's agenda.