UNHCR, Botswana Government accused of starving Caprivi refugees

23 Aug 2018

The   United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) faces mounting accusatio0ns of starving refugees from Caprivi ain Namibia that have declined calls to go back home.

More than 900 refugees, including at least 400 children who have never lived in Namibia, have been left in limbo after they were told by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) that they would no longer receive services such as food rations and access to medical treatment at the Dukwi Refugee Camp where they have been living for almost two decades.

Last week the UNHCR cautioned refugees from Caprivi that all services hitherto provided to them will be discontinued.

That was after some of them declined efforts by Botswana Government to voluntarily repatriate back to Namibia where they say they face both prosecution and persecution.

The refugees first came into Botswana in the 1990s after an insurgency in the then Caprivi Strip that the Namibian Government called a secession attempts before mounting a heavy crackdown.

The Caprivi Refugees spokesperson Felix Kakula argues that the UNHCR move is quite disturbing given  traditional norm that aid is not only extended to refugees who are given   refugee status.

Amnesty International has also spoken against the UNHCR latest move to deny refugees food in a bid to force them to go back to Caprivi.

Amnesty International says refugees still face persecution and human rights violations.

The human rights group is expected to send a special Rapporteur on Refugees, Asylum Seekers, Displaced Persons and Migrants to Botswana to assess the Caprivi refugees status.

Kakula indicated that UNHCR has informed them that they were cutting services extended to them as the Caprivi refugees were no longer persons of concern after they lost their refugee status.

“We are wondering why the UNHCR is in cahoots with the government [of Botswana] that revoked our status when they are supposed to be helping us. We went to court to block the government from going ahead with the deportation of Caprivians after we lost our refugees status,”’added Kakula.

Kakula indicated that they were first informed through a phone call that food rations and referral to private clinics will no longer be provided since the refugees lost their status.

Kakula indicated that the reason to cut services extended to them was taken out of anger. 

He was concerned that denying refugees aid was not reasonable enough since aid was not only given to people who have been granted refugees status only.

Kakula was concerned that the latest move was meant to starve them out in a bid to force them back to Namibia.  He indicated that the reason they fled was due to political environment in Namibia. He was concerned that people in Caprivi continue to face human rights abuse and their political party United Democratic Party remains barred as a political party in Namobia.

Kakula was of the view that they fear for their lives.

According to him the UNHCR as an organisation was in breach of international principles by discontinuing the refugees essential services.

However Amnesty International has also called on Botswana’s authorities not to force any of the Caprivi refugees to return to their home country Namibia, if a real risk remains that they would face persecution or other serious human rights violations.

Amnesty International said the deadline for their voluntary repatriation expired today.

Amnesty International, Deputy Director for Southern Africa, Muleya Mwananyanda advised that the government should not force the refugees to return home if their personal safety is not guaranteed.

 “These men, women and children should not be forced to return home if their personal safety cannot be guaranteed,” said Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Southern Africa.

 “A lot is at stake here if the government of Botswana forces people to return to Namibia where they may face human rights violations. It will be breaching its international and national obligations under law.”

African Charter, Commissioner Lawrence Murugu Mute indicated that they were kept in the dark about the state of Namibia refugees in Botswana. According to him the commission was unable to inform itself during the commission visit in Botswana last month. Mute noted that they will send a special Rappoteur on refugees to Botswana to assess the situation of Namibia refugees.

However the UNHCR office was unable to comment on the latest development as their phones rang unanswered.