By Mpho Tebele
Gaborone- Following a decision by the Botswana government to enforce a cessation clause with respect to Namibians’ refugee status, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has assured the refugees that they would not be prosecuted when they return to their country.
Reports indicate that efforts by the Namibian government and the United Nations to repatriate the refugees to Namibia and integrate them into society have had little success, with the remaining 982 of them refusing to return home. Some refugees had claimed that they feared that they would face treason charges when they return despite assurance by Namibian President Hage Geingob that they were safe.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Arvind Gupta, broke his silence by explaining that the 982 refugees based at Dukwi refugee camp will be given immunity if they return home.
“The Namibian government has made an assurance that the refugees will not be prosecuted when they return home. We have assessed the situation and we can also assure them that it is safe to return home,” he said.
The Botswana government has decided that the refugees should go back to their country or risk being forcefully repatriated in July.
In a statement issued this week, the Botswana Defence, Justice and Security Ministry said: “The public is informed that a decision has been taken to enforce a cessation clause with respect to the Namibian refugee status, which was invoked in 2015. All refugees are required to register in person for voluntary repatriation to Namibia from 11 May 2018 to 11 July 2018.”
“Those who register will be facilitated to return to Namibia as per the provisions of the Tripartite Agreement that is between the Governments of Botswana, Namibia and the UNHCR,” the statement says.
The refugees are reluctant to return home for fear that they will be prosecuted for the failed uprising in 1999.
According to media reports, thousands of people from the then Caprivi Region fled to Botswana in 1999 after a botched attempt to secede the region from Namibia.
Addressing the refugees at Dukwi Refugee Camp recently, Botswana’s Minister of Defence, Justice and Security, Shaw Kgathi said the Botswana government has given them until 11 July to determine whether to be repatriated or not.
“If by the end of the next two months, you have not made a determination as to whether you will return to Namibia or not, you will no longer be recognized as refugees but illegal immigrants,” Kgathi said.
He said they should have been repatriated in 2015 but the process was delayed by a court case in which the refugees were challenging their repatriation.
Despite the fact that the matter is still pending before the court, Kgathi said any refugee from Namibia, who has not made up their mind to return would lose their refugee status.
Meanwhile, some of the refugees appealed to Kgathi to consider his decision, saying they were not ready to return to Namibia where they fear persecution awaits them.