Botswana’s President Mokgweetsi Masisi, who assumed office only ten days ago, yesterday said Namibians living at Dukwi refugee camp are no longer regarded as refugees by his government but as illegal immigrants.
Concerted efforts by the Namibian government and the United Nations to return the refugees back to Namibia and integrate them into society have had little success, with the remaining 880 of them refusing to return home.
Thousands of people from the then Caprivi Region fled to Botswana in 1999 after a botched attempt to secede the region from Namibia. The rebellion, led by former member of parliament Mishake Muyongo, left 11 people dead, among them six members of the security forces. About 300 suspected rebel fighters and civilian sympathisers were arrested, while some, including Muyongo, fled abroad. Many of those who have returned from Dukwi have now been integrated into their communities without prosecution.
The Botswana High Court in January 2016 halted the deportation of the remaining 880 refugees after the deportation deadline of December 31, 2015, passed.Yesterday Masisi said his government will exhaust all avenues to ensure that the group leaves Botswana.
“We will follow procedure and exhaust all we can. But you see they are not Batswanas, they are Namibians. They are not refugees – they [have] become illegal immigrants,” he told his Namibian counterpart Hage Geingob during a courtesy visit yesterday.
“There are laws that govern what you do and how you conduct business of illegal immigrants and that will follow. If there are Batwana who are also in Namibia as illegal immigrants, I am sure the laws of Namibia will also result in them being assisted to go home.
“So, we await the outcome of possible engagement but we want to make this clear.”
Namibia’s Commissioner for Refugees Likius Valombola in an interview with New Era earlier said four refugees were repatriated back to Namibia from Dukwi on 14 September 2017- leaving an estimated 880 refugees in that country. Masisi said the Botswana government has revoked the refugee status of the group.
The Botswana President said his government firmly believes that there exists no threat for the group if it returned to Namibia, and that its safety and wellbeing was guaranteed.
Approximately 2,000 out of the 3,000 people who fled to Botswana have returned home since the beginning of the voluntary repatriation process, funded by the UN and supported by the two governments.
Nonetheless, the remaining group 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 returned home.
Commenting on the matter yesterday, President Geingob made an impassioned appeal to the group to return home, saying its safety is top on government’s agenda.
As an international practice of the UNHCR before any voluntary repatriation exercise takes place, there should be a ‘Come and See and Go and Tell’ mission, which entails that a select group of refugees go to their countries of origin to assess the situation and go back to inform others about the situation at home.
Geingob noted that many of the refugees refusing to return home did not fear for their safety as they claim, but were unrepentant advocates of the idea to secede the region, now called Zambezi, from mainland Namibia.
“If you have a political agenda and you are using the refugee status to advance other agendas, then you are not going to come back. But those who came back are home safely. If they have an agenda, that’s their problem,” Geingob stated.
He cited Muyongo, who is believed to be exiled in Denmark, as an example of those unrepentant in their quest to secede Zambezi.
Geingob said Muyongo was among Namibians who drafted the country’s constitution, which clearly defines the country’s territory.