Namibia: Botswana says no to refugees

osire_refugee_campTHE government of Botswana has decided that it will not take in the group of 41 Congolese refugees currently stranded at the Mamuno border between Namibia and Botswana.

This was confirmed yesterday by UNHCR Country Representative, Joyce Mends-Cole, and Permanent Secretary at the Ministry Home Affairs and Immigration, Samuel Goagoseb, following a regular tripartite meeting held with officials from the Botswana Government.

The refugees, all of whom had been living at the Osire Refugee Camp 220km northeast of Windhoek, fled Namibia last Wednesday, citing insecurity due to what they say and what the National Society of Human Rights (NSHR) asserts amounted to death threats from the Namibian Government.

According to the NSHR, the alleged threats came after the group in a letter complained to the Ministry of Home Affairs of unacceptable conditions at Osire.

The NSHR says the Ministry ordered the group to stop writing sensational articles which it described as a threat to peace and security, and stated that anybody, as an individual, found continuing with that adversary type of behavior shall be requested to leave the Republic of Namibia within a specified period.

But the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) says that neither is it aware of any death threats or threats of persecution mounted against the group, as they allege; nor does it have any information which would validate the fears of this group.

According to Mends-Cole, neither does the Government of Botswana.

She told The Namibian that while she could not speak for Botswana, she could confirm that its Government considers the group to have found safety in Namibia, and therefore feel they have no reason to take them into its borders.

The group is currently stranded in no mans land between the two borders, where the UNHCR has been providing them with food.

Along with the Namibia Red Cross Society, the UNHCR will return to the border today to assess the situation and speak with the group, which comprises nine families, including 23 children.

Mends-Cole reiterated the UNHCRs position that a return into Namibia would be the best option for the refugees at the moment a position which she says has been communicated to the refugees.

She adds, however that while the (Namibian) Government has taken a major stance in allowing them to return into Namibia…the Government will not force them to come back.

Even so, should they decide to come back, the refugees will have to deal with the Ministry they say has done them wrong.

Asked what would come of the refugees if they decided to return to the country, Goagoseb said the Government has not pronounced itself officially on its course of action.

He stated, however, that this would have to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis in accordance with the law and related policies, given the different circumstances of the refugees that comprise the group.

Among the 41, two families already have refugee status, seven families are asylum seekers and were denied refugee status on their first attempt but have a right to appeal, and one member of the group has been rejected refugee status.

Goagoseb also told The Namibian that regarding refugees in general, the position of the Namibian Government is that the protection of refugees is provided for even in the Constitution, and this provision is based on the experiences of the liberation struggle, where Namibians were hosted by other countries, which gives us a greater understanding of the plight and needs of refugees.

He added that the refugees had sought refuge in Namibia because of its protection mechanisms, as well as its provision of shelter, education, healthcare and other basic needs.

It would appear that they have different expectations, Goagoseb said.

He said that after the Government had turned down the refugees demands to resettle the group to the United States on the grounds that the Government is not responsible for refugee resettlement they began a campaign to gain the sympathies of the international community by complaining about issues such as food, their freedom of movement, and so on.

Most members of the group had been living at Osire for more than five years.

From the Governments position, this is unfortunate. They came at their own volition to seek refuge in Namibia, and should have gone through the normal procedures if they wanted to leave, Goagoseb said, noting that the group had violated laws and attempted to bring the countrys reputation into disrepute in the process.

Asked about Botswanas stance, he said it was within (that) Governments policies and decision-making structures to take the decision to refuse the entry of the group into its borders.

All efforts to reach officials at the Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs, and at the Office of the President in Botswana for comment proved futile.

The Namibian

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