Botswana clampdown on Caprivian refugees

Nicholas Mokwena - BG reporter
Monday, 25 June 2018
Botswana clampdown on Caprivian refugees

Uniformed police officers accompanied by an Immigration officer stormed and arrested 12 Caprivian refugees in Gaborone’s Central Business District (CBD) this week Tuesday after they presented a petition to SADC Secretariat.

Twelve (12) Namibian refugees were arrested on Tuesday at Gaborone’s Central Business District (CBD) and detained for a night at Molepolole Centre for Illegal Immigrants before being whisked to Francistown Centre for Illegal Immigrants (FCII) the next day.
The refugees had gathered at the offices of the 15-member regional body, SADC Secretariat to hand a petition demanding that the regional body find a lasting solution to what they term the “Caprivi political situation”. The group, led by Felix Kakula, petitioned SADC over the Botswana deadline of July 11 2018 to have voluntarily repatriated risk being deported forcibly.

Botswana has taken a decision to finally enforce a cessation clause with respect to the status of Namibian refugees living at Dukwi, which was invoked in 2015. The decision came after President Mokgweetsi Masisi visited Windhoek in April this year where he was reported by the Namibian media to have said that Namibian refugees at Dukwi, Botswana are no longer regarded as refugees by his government but as illegal immigrants.

Speaking to Botswana Guardian on Wednesday while in Molepolole, Kakula said: “We are currently on the queue to board the trucks that will ferry us to Francistown. They arrested us on Tuesday around 3PM at Central Business District (CBD) in Gaborone after we were chased from SADC Headquarters premises. We spent the night here at least we are all adults who were arrested,” said Kakula. Information reaching this publication is that the 12 were arrested on grounds that they left Dukwi Refugee Camp without permission. Kakula does not dispute this. “Yes we left without permission.

If authorities at the camp cannot give you permission to gather around and pray or hold meeting what of telling them that you are petitioning a regional body?” asked Kakula.  He revealed that they were arrested on Tuesday afternoon by uniformed police officers in the company of one official from Department of Immigration by the names of Sedumedi Phillip Solomon who told them that they would be taken to FCII. Following the handing of the petition, the refugees had indicated that they would not leave the SADC premises until their matter is attended.

After the petition Kakula said they are not against the decision of Botswana Government to have them return home. The worry is about the political situation in their country. In a public notice posted on the Botswana government website a week ago, the Ministry of Defence, Justice and Security announced that a decision has been taken to enforce the cessation clause with respect to the group’s refugee status, invoked in 2015. 

“All refugees are required to register in person for voluntary repatriation to Namibia from 11th May 2018 to 11th July 2018,” the notice read. The defence ministry said those who register will be facilitated for their return to Namibia as per the provisions of the Tripartite Agreement between the governments of Botswana and Namibia, and the UNHCR.

This directive did not go down well with the remaining 880 Namibian refugees who took their issue to SADC to intervene, saying they will only return home if the Namibian government accepts them as members of the outlawed United Democratic Party (UDP) led by exiled politician Mishake Muyongo.Kakula explained that it cannot be said to be safe to return to Namibia while the Namibian Government has not reconciled with them. The refugees want to return only if they and their leader Mishake Muyongo who is in Denmark are welcomed as UDP members.

Kalula indicated that they would not be silenced to speak about the Caprivi political problem adding that the same problem is the one that made them flee Namibia. UDP is a political party in Namibia representing mainly people from eastern Caprivi and advocating for the secession of what was known as the ‘Caprivi Strip’.

UNHCR Chief of Mission, Arvind Gupta told Botswana Guardian that if the 12 Namibians were refugees Botswana would have contravened the Convention and Protocol relating to Refugee Status. Gupta explained that those who were arrested and detained should not have left the Dukwi Camp in the first place.“If you call them refugees then government of Botswana would be wrong. But the fact of the matter is that they are no longer refugees. Their stay in the Dukwi Camp was for us to assist with facilitation for their repatriation back to their country following the declaration of the cessation clause.

“Botswana has enforced a cessation clause with respect to the status of Namibian refugees living in Dukwi, which was invoked in 2015. So if they leave the camp Botswana Government has the right to enforce any law that is applicable before their refugee status does not exist anymore,” Gupta explained in a telephone interview while in Dukwi.Minister of Defence Justice and Security Shaw Kgathi referred all enquiries to his Permanent Secretary Segakweng Tsiane. Tsiane could not be drawn into discussing the matter as she said she had back to back meetings and requested that she be sent a questionnaire in order to source information for this publication.

Efforts to get comment from SADC were futile at press time. Botswana Council of Churches (BCC) called on President Mokgweetsi Masisi to reconsider the 11 July 2018 deadline to ensure that the refugees’ repatriation is within the spirit of safety and peaceful settlement of all returnees, with particular reference to the issue of security clearance of the 16 political leaders.

Reverend Metlhayotlhe Beleme said BCC has received concerns from the representatives of refugees regarding security challenges at the Caprivi and related to that, lack of security clearance of the 16 leaders who are also expected to repatriate. Beleme stated that the council has been working with the refugees for years and continues to do so even after the closure of Botswana Council for Refugees (BCR) in 2004.He said they have been working with refugees from Namibia, the Caprivi Region. Beleme stated that this relationship is the one that compels the Council to plead with government on behalf of the refugees.

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