United Nations High Commission for Refugees in Botswana confirmed to have received complaints from refugees in Dukwi refugee camp alleging sexual abuse, torture and ill treatment perpetuated by security agents against refugees.
However the government has dismissed the refugees' claims that they were being tortured and abused. UNHCR confirmed witnessing a protest by women and girls outside the UNHCR office in Dukwi recently where the refugees handed a letter demanding to be relocated to other countries. The refugees started complaining after Water Utilities Corporation (WUC) disconnected water at the camp over a P7million bill resulting in refugees going for weeks without water.
UNHCR country Representative, Lynn Ngugi stated in an interview that they have received reports of torture and abuse from refugees. Ngugi however could not reveal the names of the abuse and torture complainants citing confidentiality and the protection of individuals concerned. Ngugi said the refugees alleged being tortured and ill-treated by security organs whenever they voice out their concerns. She stated that reports of sexual abuse carried out by security agents have been reported to their office in the past. But the recent protest was sparked by concerns over water disconnection. Ngugi said that the P7 million that was to be paid by government was never paid which resulted in the corporation disconnecting water. “UNHCR being gravely concerned for the life and welfare of refugees and the impact of the prolonged lack of water donated US$160,000 on December 18 as part of payment of the amount owed by the government of Botswana.
It is on the basis of this payment donated by UNHCR that enabled the water connection,” said Ngugi. Botswana has disputed refugees’ claims in Dukwi camp that the security agencies were ill-treating and torturing them for voicing out their concerns. In a letter the refugees allege that the police and members of Directorate of Intelligence Service abused and tortured them whenever they complain about disconnections of water at the camp. The refugees described such treatment as a gross violation of human rights. They also threatened to report the Botswana government to United Nations for the ill treatment. They allege that one of the refugees was tortured by DIS agents- a claim that Defence Justice and Security minister Ramadeluka Seretse disputed adding that Botswana has no intention of torturing refugees. “Are they also out to tarnish DIS do they even know what DIS do? We don’t torture people,” said Seretse. He said the water situation at Dukwi camp has since been resolved after refugees went for weeks without water.
The refugees claimed that they were forced to drink their urine after Water Utilities Corporation disconnected water at the camp because of outstanding bills. Seretse said the disconnections were as a result of some miscommunication between United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and government over payment of the bills. He said WUC had to disconnect water at the camp because they were owed a lot of money. He said that after UNHCR and Botswana government met, water was reconnected and that everything is back to normal. Dukwi refugee camp is a home to refugees from Angola, Congo, Somalia, Namibia and other countries. The letter stated that some refugees are even thinking of leaving the camp or going on strike. “We are also aware that UNHCR and Government are at odds. We don’t know who (sic) to trust but this whole thing is taking too long and we are suffering in the meantime.
We know that Botswana wants refugees out but this is not the way. We are going to alert UN Geneva and other human rights bodies of what is happening to us in Botswana the so-called shining pillar of democracy,” stated the letter.