Botswana brushes off criticism over deportation of Namibian refugees

16 Sep 2019

BY THOBO MOTLHOKA

It is a precarious situation. The government of Botswana remains unmoved by an avalanche of criticism aimed at her recent decision to cut short schooling for some Namibian refugee students.

The government recently took a decision to enact a Court of Appeal Judgement delivered earlier this year, confirming the government’s position that former Namibian Refugees had to return to Namibia because they ceased to be refugees in 2015.

The matter received public attention following an open letter to First Lady Neo Masisi by fellow pupils alleging their refugee colleagues were unceremoniously taken away from class by government security personnel.

“We have witnessed our colleagues and classmates being whisked away in a combi escorted by three members of the SSG on 06/09/19. These were Dukwi Refugee students from Namibia now viewed as illegal immigrants. We were never informed of their departure. We were on a jubilant mood with them on our prize giving ceremony. Suddenly, 6 colleagues were separated from us like lightening,” the letter read.

In their response the government reiterated the need for the students to join their parents who are being processed for deportation.

“These children have had to be withdrawn from school to join their parents who are scheduled to leave Botswana on deportation. There has not been any forceful removal of former Namibian refugee students from school by any member of the Special Support Group,” the government responded.

“In preparation for their return to Namibia, a grace period of one (1) month was given for their voluntary registration for repatriation… The legal implication of the Court of Appeal decision is that the former Namibian refugees are now classified as illegal immigrants. As a result, they have to be treated as such under the Immigration Act and accordingly be deported.”

The government said the former Namibian refugees failed to take advantage of the dispensation extended to them to register for repatriation under the Tripartite Agreement (Botswana Government, UNHCR and Namibian Government).

A subsequent meeting between Botswana and Namibia to “finalize logistical arrangements for the deportations” offered a glimmer of hope for those who wished for the students and their parents to remain in the country. But the meeting, held in Francistown on Thursday September 12, 2019 only served to cement the government’s commitment to sending the students and their parents back to Namibia.

“The two governments deliberated on the modalities for the return of the former Namibian Refugees to Namibia with immediate effect since their refugee status has lapsed and are now regarded as irregular immigrants and thus liable for removal under the immigration laws,” a statement from the government read, following the meeting. It said the two governments reaffirmed their commitment to work together to ensure safe return of the former Namibian Refugees under conditions of safety and dignity.

Local attorney Kgosi Ngakaagae is one of those who expressed their disappointment with the government’s decision to deport children, arguing the Court ruling never ordered the forced deportation. 

“Government claims that by reason of the Court of Appeal ruling, the children are illegal immigrants. False.

The Court of Appeal never pronounced on the immigration status of the children. In fact it is not their writ to do so. Immigration status is conferred by government especially in a case as the present. The Court of Appeal merely pronounced on the lawfulness or otherwise of their repatriation. They never ordered their shameful forced repatriation. Their shameful abuse and repatriation is a matter purely within the discretion of the government. It is solely government's evil act of crime. These children were born here,” Ngakaagae wrote on his social media account.