Refugees still in limbo, Namibia not budging

namibia_hifikepunye_pohambaPRESIDENT Hifikepunye Pohamba (pictured) yesterday reminded the UNHCR that Namibia is standing firm in its position not to allow the refugees stranded at the Mamuno border post between Namibia and Botswana back into the country.

During a call on the President yesterday, UNHCR Representative Joyce Mends-Cole updated Pohamba on the state of the 41 refugees, who fled Namibia in early July. The group, which includes 23 children, fled the country 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 after they complained of unacceptable conditions at Osire, where they had been living. They have been stuck in no-mans land between the two countries border posts for just over two months now.

Starting the meeting by asking how the refugees were doing, Pohamba reminded Mends-Cole that we said that we are not going to deal with them.

The Government at the end of July declared that it would never allow them (the 41 refugees) to return to Namibia, and accused them of having violated both their refugee status and immigration law of our country, and of abusing the hospitality of the Namibian Government.

Mends-Cole informed the President that the government of Botswana is currently determining whether or not to give the group refugee status, but said the UNHCR has not been advised about the findings yet.

All 41 come from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Asked whether any others are contemplating leaving the country, Mends-Cole told the President that she is unaware of any such plans, but expressed concern that some refugees have been misled to believe that if they crossed the border, they would be given refugee status elsewhere.

Following the meeting, Mends Cole told The Namibian that in addition to discussing the refugees, she and the President also discussed the UNHCRs efforts towards the local integration of refugees.

Local integration, which includes allowing refugees to be integrated into the mainstream of society, thereby shifting from being a refugee to being a resident of the country, is one of the UNHCRs three durable solutions for refugees.

The UNHCR says integration of refugees in the host community allows recipients to live in dignity and peace, and refugees at Osire have themselves expressed great interest in this option.

The other two solutions include voluntary repatriation, whereby the refugee decides to return to his/her home country, or resettlement to a third country in situations where it is impossible for a person to go back home or remain in the host country.

Mends-Cole said she informed Pohamba that practical steps are now being taken towards these goals, and that an official from the UNHCRs headquarters had recently been in the country to discuss the processes with the Namibian office.

The Namibian

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