Botswana: Go Home! Botswana Tells Zimbabwean Refugees

Zimbabwe passport.

Time is running out for over 300 Zimbabwean refugees who have been living in Botswana, after fleeing their home country during the violent 2008 presidential election. After losing a bid to remain in the country last week, the refugees now have until today (Sunday, February 28) to register for voluntary repatriation or face forceful deportation back to their homeland.

Last Friday reported that although the refugees fear persecution if they return home, officials from the U.N. refugee agency in Botswana and Zimbabwe have assured them that they are no longer at risk. One Watson Chibi, was quoted saying the refugees do not want to return home but do not have any option because they do not have money to prosecute the matter before the courts after the UNHCR rejected their plea saying they no longer qualify for international protection as things are now OK in Zimbabwe. "The only option we have is going back home to Zimbabwe. Things are bad. They are saying it is time up, we should go," said Chibi.

The Botswana government will provide transport, while the reception of the returnees and their documentation and reintegration will be the responsibility of Zimbabwean authorities.

The U.N. refugee agency says returning refugees will be assisted with a cash grant, a food package and hygiene items.

Zimbabwe's Ambassador to Botswana, Henry Mukonoweshuro, has assured refugees it is safe to return. "What I can assure you is that his excellency (Zimbabwe President Emmerson) Mnangagwa welcomes you back to Zimbabwe. It is the government's desire to have Zimbabweans in Zimbabwe," Mukonoweshuro said.

The UNHCR protection officer at the Dukwi Refugee Camp, Olivia Mugambi, recently told refugees the situation in Zimbabwe has improved. "We have done a lot of research in the country of destination and we believe that the situation has significantly changed, and the situation is now conducive for return," Mugambi said.

There has been growing speculation that government of Botswana is planning to close down Dukwi refugee camp.

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