Windhoek-Despite concerted efforts by the Namibian government to expedite the process and procedure of clearance for voluntary repatriation, 884 Namibian refugees are still living at Dukwi refugee camp in Botswana.
The Namibian and Botswana governments and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) at the 18th tripartite commission meeting in Katima Mulilo from August 9 – 11, 2016, discussed the outcome of the Botswana High Court interdicting the implementation of the Invocation of the Cessation Clause, supposed to have been effected on December 31, 2015.
The commissioner for refugees Likius Valombola in an interview with New Era this week said that to date the Namibian government is committed to repatriate the remaining 884 Namibians, who are still at Dukwi, in dignity and safety, without them being subjected to persecution.
Since the signing of the tripartite agreement in 2002, Valombola revealed, 1,384 Namibians have returned home in safety and dignity, and are now contributing to the development of Namibia.
He said no single returnee was ever prosecuted contrary to the beliefs of those opposed to the dignified return.
The Botswana High Court last year in January halted the deportation of 929 Namibian refugees who had been living at Dukwi since 1999 after they fled their homes after the Namibian Defence Force suppressed a short-lived secessionist rebellion in the Caprivi (Zambezi Region).
The refugees were due for deportation on January 1, 2016, after missing the December 31, 2015 deadline to return to Namibia as agreed between the governments of Botswana, Namibia and the UNHCR, which runs the refugee camp.
Approximately 2,000 out of the 3,000 people who fled the NDF crackdown to take refuge in Botswana have returned home since the beginning of the voluntary repatriation process funded by the UN and supported by the two governments.
Nonetheless, the 929 ignored the December 2015 deadline to return and lodged an appeal in the Botswana High Court against forced repatriation, saying they may be arrested, tortured or detained without trial if they came back to Namibia.
Valombola said there are those who voluntarily returned and are willing to return home, and are being received as they indicated their willingness to come home.
Therefore, he urged the remaining 884 refugees not to fear to return home, as no one will be prosecuted or intimidated.
Concerning the UNHCR, Valombola noted there is no withdrawal from the region and South Africa is part of the region under UNHCR operations.
He explained that the coverage of Namibia by UNHCR is on a non-residence basis which is common in diplomatic practice.
Therefore, he added, the Ministry of Home Affairs and Immigration is always, when necessary, in contact with UNHCR-Pretoria, in South Africa.
UNHCR has a presence in Botswana and both the government of Botswana and UNHCR are responsible for the refugees’ well-being.
Valombola noted that about 39 Namibians have been voluntarily repatriated since December 2016.
He said the government of Botswana and UNHCR continue to offer protection and support to Namibian refugees at Dukwi.
According to him, the voluntary repatriation is the exercise coordinated between the government of Namibia, government of Botswana and UNHCR and relatives are informed in advance in order to receive them. They are also issued with some building materials and transported to their respective communities.
Further, he said, as an international practice of UNHCR, before any voluntary repatriation exercise takes place, there should be a ‘Come and See and Go and Tell’ mission for the refugees to go to their countries of origin to see the situation and go back to inform others about the situation at home.
For Namibian refugees, he stated, the exercise started after the signing of the tripartite agreement which motivated many of them to return back home.
Currently, he said, the Ministry of Home Affairs and Immigration together with the government of Botswana and the UNCHR are busy planning a second ‘Come and See and Go and Tell’ mission.