Home Is Sweet Home – Refugees Reminded

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By Petronella Sibeene WINDHOEK With a total population of 6 500 refugees and asylum seekers residing at Osire camp, the Deputy Minister of Home Affairs Theopolina Mushelenga has encouraged these people to consider opting for voluntary repatriation. Since the Namibian government went into tripartite agreements with Angola, Rwanda and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in 2002/3, about 9 695 Angolan refugees have been repatriated while 4 250 are still to decide when they will return home and take part in the peace process and help promote national reconciliation and economic reconstruction. The majority of refugees in the camp are Angolans followed by the Congolese (about 1000) and then Burundians and Rwandese. According to Mushelenga, the ministry and involved stakeholders are still waiting for Rwandese refugees to register themselves for voluntary repatriation considering that there is now peace in their country of origin. “There is no other better place to live in than one’s country of origin, ‘the sweet home’ no matter how simple the structure might be, home is always home,” she said. Another tripartite agreement is likely to be signed involving the Namibian government, Burundi and DRC refugees. Meanwhile, the deputy minister appealed to all refugees in the country to be tolerant of each other and set aside their political ideologies. She advised, “Strive to live a united refugee life where everybody’s views, culture, tradition and customs are respected provided that such views are constructive … and not detrimental to one’s human rights and freedom.” While World Refugee Day was this year commemorated under the theme ‘Hope’, encouraging the refugee community worldwide that the entire world is with them in striving to find a durable solution to their plight, Mushelenga stated that the Namibian government encourages refugees to raise their hopes high towards self-reliance. This is currently done through the laid down procedures of obtaining work and study permits. According to the deputy minister, the Office of the Prime Minister has entered into various employment contracts since 1995 to date with refugees to work in different ministries in different fields. She could not reveal the figures of work permits issued so far. “These contacts were facilitated with the view to make their time in exile an opportunity to enhance their qualifications or even gain more experience which they can put into practice when peace returns to their countries of origin and help consolidate their economic sectors,” she added. Further, about 300 refugees are currently studying in various fields at different tertiary institutions outside Osire. Mushelenga in addition reminded refugees of the dangers of HIV/AIDS, encouraging young people in the camp to stick to one partner and take precautionary measures as provided by the Ministry of Health and Social Services and other stakeholders. “It is my belief and hope that everyone here has a hope that one of these good days they will contribute to the economic reconstruction of their motherland in one way or the other. We can only do that when we fight against the deadly pandemic of HIV/AIDS, when we are educated,” she said. There are 55 million uprooted people worldwide.