NGOMA – Eight Namibian returnees, three children and five adults were repatriated to Namibia voluntarily after spending over 15 years in the Dukwe refugee settlement in northeastern Botswana.
Initially 16 were expected to return to Namibia, but reports from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the government of Botswana indicate the other eight backtracked, after expressing concern that the education of their children in that country would be interrupted. The repatriation process took an entire day. The Dukwe refugee settlement lies more than 400 kilometres from the Ngoma border post through which the returnees entered Namibia. Namibian commissioner for refugees Nkrumah Mushelenga was surprised by the sudden u-turn of the other refugees and said incentives have been created by the Namibian government specifically for those who were willing to return voluntarily within a period of six months. “The government of Namibia together with the UNHCR have decided to offer incentives to those who were prepared to return home voluntarily within a period of six months. We are going to be giving US$50 (N$500) to each child and US$100 (N$1000) to each adult. We have also decided to provide building materials, such as iron sheets, poles and planks for them to be able to have their own shelter. Birth certificates are also issued to those who don’t have them right here at the border. I am surprised that while we were expecting 16 people, half of them have decided to stay behind,” he said.
According to Mushelenga all logistics were put in place by involving all stakeholders to ensure a dignified reception for the returnees. “We are here to give you a dignified reception as provided for by the UN and AU conventions. A stakeholders preparatory committee was constituted and is made up of stakeholders such the ministries of home affairs, health, education, gender, works and transport, safety and security, including the offices of the president, the governor and councillors,” he explained. Mushelenga bemoaned the reluctance shown by the remaining refugees suggesting that new strategies are needed as a way to encourage them to return voluntarily to their motherland.
“Let me express our concern as a government over the slowness of the 979 Namibian refugees in Dukwe to express their desire to return home. This remains a challenge to us, therefore we need to devise new strategies. We also request the government of Botswana to do more in the area of sensitizing the Namibian refugee community to register for voluntary repatriation,” he appealed. Zambezi Regional Governor, Lawrence Sampofu who encouraged the returnees to integrate with the mainstream economy without delay, further appealed to them to be wary of the HIV and AIDS pandemic, which he said was at the very core of societal annihilation. “May I further appeal to the returnees to take note of the HIV and AIDS pandemic that is wreaking havoc not only in our region but in the entire country as well. I urge you to take precautionary measures and to also join the Namibian government and other stakeholders in the fight against the spread of the disease,” Sampofu said. According to him the smooth integration of the returnees would depend primarily on the reception they are afforded. “I would like to appeal to our respective regional leaders, traditional authorities, families, civil society organisations and communities at large to wholeheartedly welcome our fellow countrymen, women and children and assist them to integrate into society. Let’s do away with evil traits such as tribalism, regionalism and secessionism,” he said. Chrispin Maatanyambe, one of the returnees who is married a Tswana woman with whom he has two kids, who remained behind for now, said he was overcome with joy to be back home and that he would make all the necessary arrangements for his family to join him in Namibia permanently. “I stayed 15 years in the refugee camp. I have a Motswana wife and two kids who were born there and remained. Our life in the camp was not good and I feel very happy that I have finally come back home,” said Maatanyambe, beaming with obvious relief. Boning Leepo, Commandant of the Dukwe refugee settlement, accompanied the eight returnees and assured the Namibian authorities that the Botswana government was committed to ensuring the return of all Namibian refugees from that country. “The Botswana government is committed to ensure that all refugees return home. However, this can only be done with concerted efforts. The people who changed their minds did so because they gave reasons that could not be resolved at the time. If the repatriation process could be speeded up in the shortest time possible, perhaps that could encourage others. We hope that within six months we will be able to return other refugees,” said Leepo.
The returnees were reunited with their relatives yesterday. About 971 Namibian refugees remain in the Dukwe refugee settlement after 22 others were repatriated back to Namibia in February last year. Many Namibians fled to Botswana from the Zambezi Region following the failed secession attempt by the so-called Caprivi Liberation Army (CLA) in 1999.
By George Sanzila