Refugees Commissioner Faces Tough Challenge


By Chrispin Inambao WINDHOEK Nkrumah Mushelenga, who in June was appointed as Commissioner of Refugees at Home Affairs and Immigration, faces an uphill task to ensure he fulfills the Namibia Refugee Recognition Control Act and other conventions on refugees. Thus far, he has issued a five-point directive of what he terms core values to be strictly adhered to by refugee administrative staff under his command and to make sure their conduct either on or off-duty complies with and reflects the values of the 1951 UN Geneva Convention and the OAU Convention governing specific aspects of African refugees. In one of the core values listed in the circular, he encourages members of his team to respect the cultures, customs and traditions of all refugees and to avoid behaving in ways that are not acceptable within a particular cultural context and not to violate any human rights. In an interview at his office Mushelenga, who until his appointment in June served as the Deputy Director for Immigration and Border Control, says his new mandate, in line with the Geneva Convention and the OAU Convention, is to ensure that the refugees are protected. His other key task is to see that his office finds a durable solution and that repatriation of the refugee population, officially 6ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 407 in number, is strictly voluntary. Latest data from the Osire Refugee Camp indicates that, despite the peace and stability gradually returning to Angola after one of the most brutal conflicts ever witnessed in Africa, nationals of that country, comprising 4ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 705, still make up the majority of refugees at Osire. Those from the Democratic Republic of Congo number 1ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 156 refugees comprising the second largest refugee population at Osire, while those who fled from the jaws of the genocide and ensuing persecution in Rwanda are said to number 305 individuals. About 200 of the refugees at the camp are from Burundi, while several dozens of others are from Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Liberia and Cameroon among other African states. With regard to the principle of voluntary repatriation, the Commissioner of Refugees says only those refugees who are willing to be repatriated to their motherland voluntarily can be sent back home because refugees are people who flee from conflict and persecution to host countries that offer a peace of mind and, as such, “they can only return to their countries if and when peace and stability prevail in their countries of origin.” Because of the fact that some refugees only proclaim this status once they are arrested by either the police or by immigration officials due to the fact that they do not live at Osire, Mushelanga has also set about undertaking a census to count all the refugees in Namibia. He feels having such a data base that will have to be compiled with the assistance of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) would enable him to know how many refugees in Namibia live at Osire and how many of them live outside. He appealed to all refugees to register for the planned exercise. “The other challenge is how to motivate my officials on the ground,” he said adding that the combination of immigration and population functions rather complicates matters. And he suggests that if the two functions could be separated and put under different directorates this would result in more efficiency while enhancing accountability. The man who has been at the helm of the Department of Immigration and Border Control for slightly over a decade, further faces another daunting task – that of drafting a policy on the local integration of those refugees who are unwilling to go back to their motherland. It has also emerged that, despite an assessment mission comprising UNHCR, Home Affairs and refugee representatives sent to Rwanda in August 2004 to find out if the situation on the ground was conducive for repatriations, there has been no follow-up. Once formulated, the policy on internal integration would be given to Rosalia Nghidinwa, Minister of Home Affairs and Immigration, for consideration and implementation. His key mandate is to ensure refugees are fully accorded full protection in compliance with the Namibia Refugee (Recognition and Control Act) and the Geneva Convention.