Almost 1000 refugees from Namibia are now stranded in Botswana after the deadline for voluntary repatriation came to an end.
Botswana, which is considered one of Africa’s top countries when it comes to human rights now wants these refugees to leave the country and go back to Namibia, where they might face different kinds of violations.
The refugees had fled to Botswana 20 years ago after a cessation uprising in the Caprivi strip, now Zambezi region.
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Historically, the strip, named after a German Chancellor Leo von Caprivi, was acquired from the United Kingdom so that German South West Africa could access the Zambezi River and the route to Tanzania, then German East Africa.
The region became a pseudo-independent territory in 1976 as a region called the Eastern Caprivi Homeland, with its own flag, national anthem, and coat of arms. It maintained this status until 1990 when the administration of Namibia moved from Pretoria to Windhoek.
In 1994, armed conflict between the Namibian government and the Caprivi Liberation Army (CLA) erupted. The CLA wanted the strip to secede from Namibia. The war resulted in the destruction of property, gross human rights violation, and displacement of more than 3,000 people.
The displaced people moved to Botswana and were given refugee status before being settled at the Dukwe Camp.
Since 2002, the government of Botswana has tried to repatriate these refugees by revoking their refugee status. However, in 2015, the country’s high court and the court of appeal overturned the decision, stating that the country’s Ministry of Defense, Justice and Security had to ensure that the refugees get a safe return home.
More than 900 refugees including children born in the camp are now facing an uncertain future over the renewed decision by Botswana to force them to go back home to Namibia.
According to refugees interviewed by Amnesty International, they do not have anywhere to go and their children are Batswana by birth.
The situation is even worse for some of the refugees who had taken part in the Caprivi Strip uprising for they have not been cleared by the Namibia government to go home. Upon arrival, they will be deemed illegal immigrants and be held in a detention centre called Francistown Centre.
According to the justice minister Shaw Kgathi, the Botswana government holds that the refugees status was temporary and the refugees were required to go home once their country is stable and secure.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) official Layla Anabtawi stated that as at yesterday, only 74 refugees have returned home voluntarily out of the 940, reports the Namibian. She further said that the rest had to register or else end up as illegal immigrants in Botswana.
The status of the camp has also come under scrutiny, which Anabtawi had described as appalling in June.
It would be sad to see that Africa’s beacon of human rights is forcing refugees to leave its borders when it has the moral obligation to ensure that they are protected and able to live safely with their families.