Tensions are reaching boiling point as the deadline for the repatriation of the Namibian refugees held at Dukwi refugee camp to their native country draws nearer.
The refugees have until 11th of July (less than two weeks) to return to their country. But fresh information gathered by this publication indicates that some of the refugees at Dukwi Camp are refusing to sign for voluntary repatriation. This comes after some of their colleagues were arrested last week in Gaborone.
The 12 refugees who presented a petition to Southern African Development Community (SADC) on behalf of others at the camp have been detained since Tuesday last week. They were held at Molepolole Centre for Illegal Immigrants and later transported to Francistown Centre for Illegal Immigrants (FCII) where they are currently detained. There are claims that officials at FCII and Dukwi Camp are reluctant to release the detained Namibians to the camp on fears that they might incite others at the camp not to sign for voluntary repatriation pending intervention by SADC. It is alleged that SADC is currently considering the request for intervention.
About 900 Namibians remain at the camp. They are mostly those who call themselves Caprivians. The Namibian government is said to have managed to repatriate about 3,000 since 2000. The refugees stated in their petition to SADC, that they will only return home if the Namibian government lifts the ban on the United Democratic Party (UDP), which is led by the exiled leader of the separatist movement in the former Caprivi now Zambezi region of Namibia, Mishake Muyongo.
UDP had formed a military wing, the Caprivi Liberation Army, which carried out deadly secessionist attacks at Katima Mulilo on 2 August 1999. The refugees now want SADC to intervene and create a platform where Namibian Government would welcome them back to the country as UDP members. They also want an undertaking from the government that they would not face any criminal charges especially treason.
In an interview at FCII Felix Kakula representing the refugees said no one is communicating anything to them. He explained that they (12 of them) have been detained since Wednesday last week following their arrest. Kakula further stated that SADC has also not responded to their request. He fears that the deadline for the repatriation is drawing near. “It is true that some people are refusing to sign for voluntary repatriation. The only reason is what we have already communicated to SADC. This is a political situation that needs political intervention.
We still maintain that we would not leave for Namibia until they agree to our terms. We have been here detained since last week. We suspect they would not take us to the camp because they fear we might influence more of our people not to sign for the repatriation,” Kakula indicated.
He revealed that they are currently working with Botswana Council of Churches (BCC) who are facilitating through a lawyer for their release from detention. BCC has 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. The council has since engaged a lawyer to assist with the release of the 12 refugees from the FCII.
UNHCR Chief of Mission, Arvind Gupta told this publication that there is nothing they could do regarding the arrested Namibians because at the time of their arrest they were not refugees. He said their status as refugees was no longer recognised. “Their stay in the Dukwi Camp is 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 at Dukwi, which was invoked in 2015. So if they leave the camp Botswana Government has the right to enforce any law that is applicable.
Their refugee status does not exist anymore,” he stated. Botswana Government has not made any statement since the petition and arrest of the refugees.
SADC Head of Regional Early Warning Centre and Representative of Namibian Government Habib Kambanga who received the petition told this publication this week that he could not comment on the matter because at the time he received the petition he was just acting as the relevant officer was out of the country.
Kambanga stated that all he knows is that a letter has been drafted to both Namibian and Botswana Government requesting for a bilateral discussion on the matter.
“Currently I do not know the status of the matter because after the drafting of the letter I also travelled out of Botswana. As SADC we want the matter resolved,” said Kambanga referring further inquiries to Dr Malepa- Director for Organ on Politics, Defence and Security.
Dr Malepa also referred the matter to SADC Head of Public Relations Barbara Lopi who was not available for comment at press time. Botswana’s Minister of Defence Justice and Security Shaw Kgathi revealed that Namibian President has sent a delegation to Dukwi Camp to talk to the refugees. “The Namibian President has sent three ministers and some traditional leaders to speak to Namibians at the camp. We would be going there to meet them and the meeting would probably be Thursday or Friday. We are hoping for a fruitful engagement,” said Kgathi on Wednesday this week.
Namibia’s Commissioner for Refugees in the Ministry of Home Affairs, Likius Valombola, said that they have no communication about Namibians detained in Botswana and are only aware of the 910 refugees who have been cleared “as per current communique”. Valombola also pleaded ignorance on some refugees from Caprivi (now Zambezi) Region in north-eastern Namibia who apparently demand that they be welcomed to Namibia and be recognised as United Democratic Party (UDP) members without being charged with treason.
“We do not know about UDP members and we do not know that there are still activities going on, unless they reactivated. We cannot dwell on that,” he said. The Namibian government’s position on the current development with regards to refugees at Dukwi refugee camp in Botswana is that it is ready to receive them back home “with open hands”. “There is no point for them to live in Botswana as refugees as per the tripartite,” said Valombola. He added that the Namibian government received a communiqué from SADC Secretariat on 20 June 2018 and the Ministry of Home Affairs and Immigration was consulting with relevant stakeholders on the matter.
“The Government of Namibia is prepared to receive its citizens in safety and dignity,” he pointed out, saying that upon registration for voluntary repatriation, they would be issued with repatriation packages such as building materials and national documents for those who do not have.
According to Valombola, the returnees would be treated like others who have already been repatriated by engaging local stakeholders for resettlement and re-integration purposes back to their various communities. “They will participate in the socio-economic development programmes available in their constituencies and communities without any discrimination or persecution. With regard to school going population, they will definitely be admitted in their respective levels of schooling,” said Valombola.
As per the Tripartite Commission agreement, the UNHCR will give a voluntary repatriation package, which includes money and food for three months, while also monitoring and supervising the voluntary repatriation from the country of asylum to the country of origin.
Valombola warned that those who fail to register for voluntary repatriation would unfortunately forfeit the repatriation packages.
The Commissioner dispelled fears that those who return would be persecuted or imprisoned, saying that “the Government of Namibia is resolute in ensuring that they return in a dignified manner and integrated into their communities without fear from persecution.” He said before the deadline of the 11 July 2018, Botswana hosted 916 Namibians and immediately when the deadline was announced, seven former Namibian refugees registered for voluntary repatriation and were received on the 14 June 2018.
“They are now with their families well integrated into their communities in Zambezi Region,” he noted. Valombola said that those who were not cleared by the Tripartite Commission should write a letter to the President of Namibia Hage Geingob, indicating their circumstances and their intent to return to Namibia.(Magreth Nunuhe is Senior Business Reporter with Southern Times)