15 Exiles Come Home

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By Chrispin Inambao KATIMA MULILO A group of 15 Namibian exiles, among them women and children, whose flight to Botswana was a direct consequence of secessionist troubles that erupted in the Caprivi Region, were yesterday accorded a dignified return to their motherland. The voluntary repatriation followed tripartite talks involving Namibian officials, bureaucrats from Botswana and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and was witnessed by a group of people related to the latest batch of returnees. Namibia’s High Commissioner to Botswana Theresia Samaria, acting Caprivi Regional Governor Leonard Mwilima, UNHCR Representative from Windhoek Joyce Mends-Cole, the Under Secretary for Political Affairs in the Office of the President in Botswana Ross Sanoto, senior immigration and police officers oversaw the repatriation. Since the voluntary repatriation process was initiated in 2002 under a groundbreaking tripartite agreement, yesterday’s repatriation of home-sick exiles now brings the tally to 1 063 returnees safely reunited with their families. Mwilima told the returnees, who included two young girls whose mother recently died at the refugee camp from ill health, said: “We welcome you all back home. We are looking forward to have you all reintegrated into your respective communities in a smooth and dignified manner. “We all regard this type of exercise a happy occasion due to the fact that it signifies the positive note towards a durable solution when it comes to the plight of the Namibian refugees case load in Botswana,” Mwilima said. He also felt a durable solution could only gain momentum once the obstacles that have beset the exercise are promptly identified and subsequently removed completely, “otherwise we will continue to dwell around this process for an indefinite period of time, something which we should avoid by all means”. Mwilima also used the homecoming event to commend the government of Botswana and the Un refugee agency for protecting Namibian refugees at Dukwe. He reiterated the fact that the Namibian Government is committed to finding a durable solution to Namibians still holed up at the refugee camp. Sanoto said his country shelters and continues to house Namibians who escaped to Botswana since the exodus started in 1998 and that it has facilitated a smooth relocation of refugees who voluntarily expressed their wish to return home. Sanoto described yes-terday’s repatriation as a “positive step” and that it seems those involved in the exercise have so far executed their duties very well. He also echoed Mwilima’s views, saying he wished that a durable solution would be found. “We are elated that the 15 have been able to return,” he said at the border post. Dorothy Kabula, Councillor for Linyanti Constituency was also on hand to receive eight of the repatriated refugees who happen to come from her constituency. Those repatriated are from the villages at Singobeka, Masokotwane, Luhoto, Makanga, Masida, Ka-sheshe, Kapani and Singa-lamwe. Nine of the returnees are male and six are female. Mends-Cole said the UN refugee agency as part of confidence building orga-nised trips for representatives of the refugees to come and assess the situation in Namibia and subsequently tell others what they saw. She said such visits are called: “Go Tell Visits”. It is also considering arranging trips for church leaders and exiles’ relatives to travel to the refugee camp to provide accurate information to those at the camp. Last year two groups of exiles were successfully repatriated. As part of the repatriation exercise, the returnees are given food rations consisting of maize meal, sugar, beans and soup to last them for a month on top of a repatriation grant of N$200, some non-food items such as blankets, paraffin stoves and cooking utensils. Shortly after being addressed by the various officials, the returnees were transported to their respective villages with their possessions consisting of bedding material, plastic chairs and pots. The Dukwe Refugee Camp, some 130 km outside Francistown, is still home to 3 000 refugees from Na-mibia, Angola, DRC, Sudan, Burundi and Somalia.