Sixteen Namibian refugees, who have been living in the Dukwi refugee camp in Botswana for the past 17 years, were repatriated to Namibia on Friday.
They form part of the group that fled the country in 1998 into Botswana to seek political asylum in the wake of the failed attempt by the so-called Caprivi Liberation Army to secede the then Caprivi Region from the rest of Namibia at the instigation of exiled Namibian politician Mishake Muyongo.
Initially only 11 refugees were registered to be repatriated this month, but the figure later increased by an additional five. Representing the Zambezi regional governor at the event, the new Zambezi Regional Council chairperson and Judea Lyabolloma Constituency Councillor Beaven Munali, in a brief statement, urged the returnees to fully integrate themselves into society and contribute to economic development.
“You should not sit idle, but contribute to the economic development of Namibia. We would like to thank the government of Botswana and the UNHCR for your safe return,” Munali noted. He further implored Zambezi residents, including the traditional authorities, to embrace the returnees and help them integrate into mainstream activities.
Head of the Botswana delegation accompanying the returnees and settlement officer for Dukwi Refugee camp Bonang Batekele spoke of the efforts of the governments of Botswana and Namibia in ensuring the safe return of the remaining refugees at the camp in light of the looming deadline of December 31.
“We hope the remaining refugees would also be safely repatriated. We are left with less than two weeks and we are working very hard towards achieving the repatriation of the remaining Namibians. If we continue working together, we hope to meet the 31 December deadline. We hope the reception we got here will continue to convince others to register for repatriation,” said Batekele.
According to the tripartite agreement of the two governments and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), on December 31 the process of ending the refugee status of the Namibians in Botswana would begin. This is because the peaceful and conducive socio-political environment prevailing in Namibia does not prevent their safe return.The newly appointed commissioner for refugees in Namibia, Likius Valombola, echoed similar sentiments, noting that apart from monetary incentives as an enticement, the government of Namibia is giving free building material to the returnees.
“The tripartite commission agreed on the return of refugees and the facilitation of their integration into society, given the cessation of their refugee status on December 31st. As part of helping those that are returning we have, therefore, purchased building material to aid them in their integration,” Valombola explained.
Upon expiry of the December 31 deadline the Namibian refugees in Botswana will have an option of returning to Namibia, or applying for Botswanan citizenship.
One of the returning Namibians, Francis Kupulo could not contain his joy at the prospect of returning home. “We are very happy to join our fellow Namibians. We would like to thank the two governments for making our return possible,” Kupulo said.
Over 2 000 Namibians have been repatriated from Botswana since the year 2000. As the deadline approaches over 928 still remain holed up in the Dukwi refugee camp.
Despite the propaganda – spread particularly by hardliners within the country and at the refugee camp – that those coming back could face prosecution and victimisation, some of those that have been repatriated have surpassed expectations by owning successful and thriving businesses and are living in contentment.