Leader of the National Democratic Party (NDP), Martin Lukato, says the planned deportation of hundreds of Namibians, who have been holed up at the Dukwe refugee camp in Botswana in the aftermath of the secessionist uprising in Zambezi in 1999, will be in breach of international law.
The secessionist uprising in the former Caprivi (now Zambezi) region was led by exiled politician Mishake Muyongo and carried out by a rag-tag group of rebels. This resulted in the death of 11 people and triggered an exodus of hundreds of people, who fled to Botswana where they were granted refugee status.
Botswana wants to deport 880 Namibian exiled at Dukwe after the invocation of the cessation clause that ended their refugee status last December but Lukato has issued a statement in which he claims deporting the Dukwe refugees will be in breach of international law.
Lukato called on both President Hage Geingob and his Botswana counterpart Mokgweetsi Masisi, who this week visited Namibia, not to breach the international statute on refugees by deporting the group.
He said the group in Dukwe should not be deported against its will and that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) should intervene and find a third country that could accommodate the group as refugees.
“The exiled refugees in question can only come back home voluntarily and not through forced deportation,” said the former policeman turned politician.
Masisi, who assumed office two weeks ago, had said Namibians living at Dukwe refugee camp are no longer regarded as refugees by his government but as illegal immigrants who should be deported.
There have been concerted efforts by the Namibian and Botswana governments and UNHCR to return the refugees back to Namibia and integrate them. Though hundreds have taken the offer and have returned home in a dignified manner, there has been little success with the remaining 880.
There are reports that a group of hardcore Namibians who are at Dukwe implicated in the failed uprising have essentially been holding some of the women and children hostage, as they feel this will significantly reduce their ranks and dilute their cause that has inconsequential support.
Apart from the thousands of people that escaped to Dukwe about 300 suspected rebel fighters and civilian sympathisers were arrested, while some, including Muyongo, fled abroad. Many of those who have returned from Dukwe have now been integrated into their communities without prosecution.
The Botswana High Court in January 2016 halted the planned deportation of the remaining 880 refugees after the deportation deadline of December 31, 2015, had passed. Early this week, Masisi said his government would exhaust all avenues to ensure that the group leaves Botswana.
“We will follow procedure and exhaust all channels. 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 the one-day courtesy visit early this week.
“There are laws that govern what you do and how you conduct business of illegal immigrants and that will follow. If there are Batswana 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.”