Dukwi refugees and asylum seekers suspect malice on the part of Botswana government when it cut water from the camp for the whole of the festive season, saying it is one way government is pushing them out.
On December 9 last year, Water Utilities Corporation(WUC) cut off water supply at the Dukwi camp due to high water bill. According to the refugees who preferred to speak on condition of anonymity, they were never informed of the water cut off. “When we asked the officer commandant about the water cut off he just told us off, and used unpalatable words,” said one refugee. The refugees said that they were given contradictory statements by the officer commandant who blamed the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees [UNHCR] officials for water cuts while the latter blamed the former. Tired of being tossed around, some members of the refugee camp stormed into the commandant officer’s office demanding a meeting involving UNCHR and WUC. At the meeting the angry refugees were promised that water would be restored but two weeks passed without any development. Some of them resorted to drinking stagnant rain water around the camp and those with bicycles fetched water in Dukwi village.
Dukwi councillor Paulson Majaga said that they were shocked to see long queues at public standpipes and this created a rift between the villagers and people from the refugee camp. “There was commotion at the standpipes and it was sad seeing these people walking for more than three kilometres to fetch water,’’ said Majaga. He wondered at such inhuman treatment, “How do you deny your fellow human being a basic need like water? asked Majaga rhetorically. He said that the painful thing was that as the village leaders they were never informed by the refugee camp authorities that their residents would fetch water from their public stand pipes.
“At the end of the day the water is going to be paid for by the council and they (refugees camp authorities) will not be there to help us,’’ said the furious councillor who is also the deputy chairman for Tutume sub district council. Director in the ministry of defence, justice and security Ross Sanoto said that they consulted the village chief about the water situation at the camp. “I thought he would pass the message to other stakeholders in the village.” Water was eventually restored at the camp on January1 this year after a December 31st meeting with WUC officials.
Restriction of movement
The ministry of defence, justice and security which is in charge of the camp has now come up with a new law that restricts the movement of refugees outside the camp. Only 15 permits are given out per week.
“Most of us rely on piece jobs (sic) to pay for electricity bills and buy other necessities but now we have been subjected to poverty as we are not allowed to go out of the camp,’’ said a distressed Burundian refugee. A Somali refugee who runs a tuckshop inside the camp said that business was going down and that he might close shop since refugees’ buying power has been reduced as they are not allowed to go out. “I was relying on those who got piece jobs (sic) outside the camp as they were my customers but government officials have now made life difficult for us,’’ he noted with a sad face.
Sanoto said that the restrictions are meant to protect them, “remember that they are asylum seekers and refugees and we do not want to compromise their security.’’
Another issue that has led asylum seekers and refugees at Dukwi camp wondering about the seriousness of Botswana government is that of giving shelter to those staying in tents. On Sunday most of them were evacuated to the primary school after it was warned that there might be floods due to heavy rainfall in the area.
“UNCHR has built more than 20 houses and handed them to government to distribute them but the commandant officer is refusing to let some of us occupy the houses and we do not know why,” said one refugee.
Northern Extra saw the houses that are still unoccupied while just a stone’s throw away, some of the reefugees and asylum seekers were still lodging in worn out white tents. Sanoto was not aware that the houses are complete and have been handed to his office. “There is a housing committee led by the commandant officer which is responsible for allocating houses and hope they will allocate them if they are ready,’’ said Sanoto. Dukwi refugee camp has over 3 000 refugees and most of them are from Somalia, Namibia, Burundi, Rwanda and other nationalities.
At press time a response for a questionnaire to one Matthew Vincent of UNHCR was awaited.