Monday, June 21, 2021

Botswana, Namibia, UNCHR in refugees repatriation row

Court records have revealed how the Botswana government forced and threatened 924 Namibian political refugees into signing up for voluntary repatriation.

Sworn statement placed before the High Court state that the Botswana government deployed deliberate starvation to force the refugees into signing voluntary repatriation forms despite corroborated by a Namibian human rights movement that they face possible political persecution in Namibia.

The records suggest that the repatriation which is currently the subject of a High Court battle violated the 2002 tripartite agreement between Botswana, Namibia and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) which guaranteed “safe and dignified return” of thousands of Namibians who fled to Botswana following secessionist troubles in the Caprivi in 1998 and subsequent separatist attacks.

The agreement, a copy of which has been passed to the Sunday Standard was signed by former Namibia’s Deputy Home Affairs Minister, Loide Kasingo on behalf of the Namibian former Assistant Minister of Presidential Affairs, Administration Olifant Mfa on behalf of the Botswana government and former UNHCR Branch Office Representative in Namibia, Hesdy Rathling on behalf of the UNHCR.

Under the agreement, the contracting parties made a commitment to undertake all necessary initiatives to ensure the safe transportation and return of the refugees up to their place of final destination in conditions of safety and dignity. The agreement also states that all refugees seeking to return to Namibia under the tripartite agreement shall complete and sign a Voluntary Repatriation form (VRF). The legal status of those refugees who do not make the decision to repatriate shall continue to be governed by the relevant international refugee law and protection principle.

The agreement also states that the refugees will not be subject to any judicial legislative or administrative measures for the sole reason of having left Namibia as refugees.

In his supporting affidavit for the refugees’ application filed by their lawyer, Martin Dingake of Dingake and Partners Law Firm, Namibian human rights advocate, Phil Ya Nangoloh states that the grounds cited by the refugees which include amongst others fear of persecution are not unfounded.

 

Nangoloh who is the Executive Director of Namibian Rights and Responsibilities Inc (“NamRights” said fear of persecution  include, but by no means limited to, the fact that the refugees belong to and or are members or supporters of the banned United Democratic Party (UDP) . He said all members and supporters of UDP are liable to be prosecuted on the more than 270 criminal charges, each, relating to high treason.

According to Nangoloh, other Caprivi Strip refugees who had fled to Botswana in 1998 and 1999 have been arrested, brutally tortured, prosecuted and convicted on charges relating to high treason in accordance with the common purpose doctrine; and, on or around July 1 2015 the Namibia-controlled Governor of Caprivi Strip summarily expelled back to Botswana at least 13 of the refugees, and others.  

Nangoloh said refugees from Dukwi Refugee Camp who had arrived at the Caprivi Strip on a “Come and See, Go and Tell” mission organized by UNHCR were deported back to Botswana. The Go and See Mission was a delegation that was sent from the Dukwi refugee camp, for on the ground appraisal their impending resettlement in Namibia.

“However, and in the presence of UNHCR and Botswana officials, the said refugees were summarily deported on the presumption that they inter alia engaged in “secessionist” activities which threatened Namibia’s peace, stability, national security and territorial integrity and further that they advocated and or mobilized for UDP,” said Nangoloh.

 

 

Director of Centre for Human Rights-DITSHWANELO, Alice Mogwe on the other hand said refugees are the subject matter of the entire repatriation process and yet are excluded from analysing a decision which affects them. She said they are effectively being denied the right to participate in a process which has or may have a direct bearing on them, with adverse consequences.

“DITSHWANELO is concerned that presently it would be unsafe for the cessation clause to be effected until such time as the applicants are fully informed of the outcome, formally, of the report of the ‘GO AND SEE, COME AND TELL’ Mission,” said Mogwe and asked the court to stop any repatriation or deportation back to Namibia, until they were satisfied that they will be safe and received without difficulty back home.      

The lead applicant, Felix Kakula stated in his founding affidavit that the Dukwi Camp and the Ministry of Justice, Defense and Security had insisted that “we all take the Cessation of Refugee status and we complete them.”

 

He said there begun subtle ways of forcing us to complete the forms against our will.

 

“Those who refused to complete the forms were denied food rations at the camp; Some were promised favours in return for completion of forms; dialogue on this matter has been hampered adversely by lack of openness and transparency,” he said.

 

He accused the Botswana Government of insisting that the refugees should have relocated to Namibia as of the 31st December 2015 deadline without addressing the security question. “They threaten us with revoking our refugees’ status and declaring us illegal immigrants, with the possibility of a deportation. If the government believes in the strength of its case for our voluntary repatriation, these threats would be unnecessary,” he said.

Acting Judge of the High Court, Justice Jennifer Dube ordered that pending written reasons to be made available on February 26th; government shall not deport the refugees.

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