By Petronella Sibeene
It was all activities galore on Tuesday at the Osire refugee camp in the Otjiwarongo district as thousands of children and youth welcomed the commemoration of World Refugee Day that falls on June 20.
The day reflects on the plight of refugees and asylum seekers and celebrates the many achievements made in the face of adversity.
“We decided this year to make the day different. And we thought of doing something different from their daily lives, something before Friday when they will have dialogue with officials,” said Joyce Mends-Cole, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Representative.
Celebrations started as early as 08h00 with a live radio show – the Mario and Fani Show. Other activities included musical performances featuring local Kwaito star Gazza, both female and male soccer by six teams from the camp, as well as judo.
This year will be commemorated under the theme “Protection”. According to Mends-Cole, the theme captures a comprehensive form of protection that includes not only legal but also social and material protection.
“It also means living in a community that is safe and allows one to develop his or her potential,” she elaborated.
She added that the entire week is about raising awareness in Namibia about refugees. Thus this year UNHCR engaged the assistance of the private sector in organising the event.
The sourcing of outreach services from the private sector, Mends-Cole added, is encouraged by the United Nations especially that aid to UNHCR has over the years diminished.
Because of that, UNHCR will also have to be assertive in its work encouraging refugees from countries that are now peaceful to consider voluntary repatriation.
“Regarding countries like Angola, the circumstances that forced them (refugees) to flee no longer exist. We encourage volunteer repatriation so that they can go home and start re-building their lives,” Mends-Cole said.
Many have languished in the camp for years, hoping for a chance to rebuild their lives or move to another host country. Many are desirous to go back to their countries of origin, but are fearful of what they may find.
Others want to leave Namibia where they say they do not feel welcome. And yet others want to remain here where they have found a sense of safety and peace of mind.
Mends-Cole added that UNHCR has documented all the returnees and there is none who has faced any kind of persecution hence the re-integration programme continues.
Although she could not indicate when, Mends-Cole said plans are under way for UNHCR to hold a Participation Assessment Meeting with refugees that feel they can not yet return to their respective countries.
There are about 6 500 refugees based at Osire camp, with about 1 300 living outside, confirmed UNHCR.
Osire Refugee Camp was established in 1992. In 1998, it had a population of about 20 000.
The majority of the refugees came from Angola (76.5%). The remainder came from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Burundi, Sudan, Ethiopia, Liberia, Congo-Brazzaville, Rwanda, Kenya and Tanzania.