Refugee teachers at Osire settlement face an uncertain future following the closure of the refugee camp end of this month.
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) last week announced that it would shut down its operations in Namibia at the end of this month after 23 years of operation.
UNHCR Country Representative Lawrence Mgbangson said Namibia’s refugee population has drastically reduced to below 5 000 and the capacity of government to independently contain refugees has grown since 1992 when the Osire Refugee Camp was first set up in the Otjozondjupa Region.
Primary and secondary school teachers at the settlement total 40. All the 14 teachers at primary level are refugees, while 20 refugee educators are teaching at secondary and only six are Namibians.
The announcement of the closure has left many refugee teachers, most of them Angolans and Congolese, anxious how they would survive when the UNHCR office, which was responsible for paying their salaries, shuts its door.
Speaking to New Era in an interview on Friday, Osire Secondary School acting principal Christine Machina – who is also a refugee – confirmed the dilemma, saying they are left in limbo with the news of UNHCR’s phasing out.
“Most teachers are not given food like other fellow refugees because they were earning an income. But now the UNHCR is phasing out. We are no longer getting paid but we are rendering services to the learners. We want to know how we can be assisted. We are left stranded,” she lamented.
The closure of the office also means that 4 000 refugees at Osire are left without humanitarian assistance and the Namibian government has to initiate their own refugee centre and fund it.
Namibia’s Commissioner for Refugees Nkrumah Mushelenga confirmed that most teachers are affected but said it would be difficult for the Namibian government to take them over, as they are refugees and most of them do not have proper documentation.
Machina also wanted to know how refugees with specialized skills such as doctors, lawyers and teachers could be assisted to make a meaningful contribution while they are hosted at Osire.
Additionally, she queried how educated refugees, who lost their documents when they fled their countries of origin but wish to further their studies at higher institutions of learning in Namibia, could be assisted
Although Mushelanga said documentation is a major problem, he also agreed that among the refugees there are those with vast skills and they could be useful instead of importing expertise beyond the African continent.
“For one to become a doctor it is highly costly. Why can’t we make use of these sons and daughters who have expertise and want to contribute to the socio-economic development of the country? If government wants doctors and we have them in Osire, why do we have to go beyond [borders] and get [them] from far? We have to think positively and not think that refugees are useless. This is how we should work if we are to achieve a ‘world without refugees’,” he said.
He said refugees could be made useful by putting strong monitoring mechanisms in place.
Osire Primary School has an enrolment of 750 learners, while the secondary school has about 312.
Even though, Mgbangson said government can now deal with the refugees because it has the capacity, is qualified and fully capable, serious questions have been raised as to whether government is fully prepared to shoulder the responsibility of the remaining refugees at Osire on its own.
He also said an action plan has already been established for government to take over the implementation of refugee programmes.
Home Affairs and Immigration Minister Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana last week said that government would continue receiving assistance from UNHCR and did not express much concern regarding the readiness of government to take over the programmes while her deputy Erastus Utoni said government would assist refugees with the limited resources it has at its disposal.