By Mpho Tebele
Gaborone - At least 20 Namibians, who were based at Dukwi Refugee Camp in the northern part of Botswana, have returned to Namibia ahead of the looming cancellation of their refugee status, it has emerged.
The group is part of those who fled to Botswana after a failed secession attempt in the then Caprivi (now Zambezi) region of Namibia. Recently, some of their compatriots petitioned the Southern African Development Community (SADC) over a decision made by the host government to repatriate them before 15 July.
There are currently over 900 Namibian refugees at Dukwi Camp. A spokesperson for the refugees, Felix Kakula, said they decided to petition SADC after their efforts to engage both the Botswana and Namibian governments to discuss their status fell on deaf ears. The secretariat of the 15-member SADC is headquartered in the Botswana capital, Gaborone.
Those who were petitioning the regional organisation were later arrested by the police accused of having left the camp illegally.
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Chief of Mission, Arvind Gupta, was quoted as saying there was nothing the UNHCR could do because at the time of their arrest the Namibians were not refugees.
According to Gupta, the status of the Namibians as refugees was no longer recognised. He said, as UNHCR, what they could do was to facilitate the repatriation of the refugees to Namibia following the declaration of the cessation clause by the host country (Botswana).
He said the cessation clause was enforced in 2015 and if the refugees leave the Dukwi Refugee Camp “the Botswana Government has the right to enforce any law that is applicable”.
A statement issued by SADC states that Gupta recently paid a courtesy call to the SADC Executive Secretary, Dr Stergomena Lawrence Tax on 26 June 2018 at the SADC Secretariat in Gaborone, Botswana.
“The two parties met to discuss issues regarding the movement of refugees seeking asylum, forced and voluntary migration, as well as issues for continued collaboration between the two organisations in the management of refugees in the region,” reads the statement.
He reportedly pointed out that through the tripartite arrangement between the UNHCR, Botswana and Namibian governments, the repatriation of the Namibian refugees residing at Dukwi Refugee Camp in Botswana, who sought political asylum in Botswana since 1998, was on course, and are expected to return home in the next two months, while the repatriation of Zimbabwean refugees will follow soon. He has since assured the refugees that they would be given immunity if they returned home.
Botswana’s Minister of Justice Defence and Security, Shaw Kgathi has given the Namibian refugees until 15th of this month to voluntarily leave the country or face forceful removal.