Botswana to Deport Over 800 Namibian Refugees

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13 September 2019

OVER 850 Namibians who have been living as refugees in Botswana will be deported to Namibia after that country nullified their refugee status.

This follows a judgement delivered in July this year by the Court of Appeal in Botswana, which declared Namibians at the Dukwi refugee camp in Botswana illegal immigrants.

The date of the pending deportation is being decided on, The Namibian has learnt.

The refugees are members of the United Democratic Party, who fled from their homeland and settled at the Dukwi refugee camp, following their secessionist attempt of the Zambezi region (formerly Caprivi) from Namibia in 1999.

In preparation for their return to Namibia, the former refugees were given a grace period until 1 September 2019 to agree to be voluntarily repatriated, or face deportation thereafter.

The Namibian was informed that only three former Namibian refugee families out of 855 former Namibian refugees registered to be repatriated following the judgement.

It is said that the registration for voluntary repatriation would have, among other things, entitled the former refugees to repatriation packages from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in the form of resettlement allowances, associated benefits as well as consideration for their children's educational placement upon resettlement in Namibia.

Minister of Home Affairs and Immigration Frans Kapofi confirmed this to The Namibian on Wednesday this week.

He explained that following the loss of the case, the refugees at Dukwi camp are no longer refugees, and have now become illegal immigrants in Botswana.

"They ruled in favour of the Botswana government, so now the process of returning these people to Namibia has almost started. They are no longer refugees in Botswana. They are now illegal immigrants," he reiterated.

Kapofi, however, said despite the ruling by the Botswana government, the refugees are still being given the option to be voluntarily repatriated before they are forced to leave.

"The option is still there for those who want to be voluntarily repatriated before they are forced," he added.

Kapofi said those who agree to be voluntarily repatriated will receive monetary assistance from the United Nations.

"If they agree to be voluntarily repatriated, the United Nations will give them an amount of U$300 USD [N$4 407] per adult, and about US$150 [N$2 203-50] per child, but the Namibian government will not give them anything," he stated.

Kapofi said the Namibian government will be integrating them back into the communities where they originally come from.

"Any possible incentives by the government will be determined by the condition in which they arrive," he continued.

The former refugees have refused to be repatriated, as they claim fearing persecution by authorities in Namibia.

They contest returning home without an undertaking from the Namibian government that it will welcome them back, as they are "political refugees".

"We are ready to receive our citizens from that side. When they come back to Namibia, they will go back to the communities where they came from. We are not intending to create new settlements for them. What we are doing is to say you came from this village where your family stays, so you are welcome to integrate with your family," Kapofi emphasised.

"There are other Namibians who were there [Botswana], have returned, and have happily integrated back into their communities. We have made it very clear that we do not intend to arrest those who have no questions to answer. There are probably only five people who are still on the wanted list, but those are not part of the larger group which is coming," he said.

Kapofi added that senior officials of Botswana and Namibia will be meeting in Francistown on Thursday to finalise logistical arrangements for the deportations of the former refugees.

It has been reported that over 3 000 Namibian refugees have been repatriated since 2000.

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