Government has admitted that it is dithering over a request by the American government to take in Afghan refugees who have been fleeing from the Taliban government.
Two months ago, The US government requested Botswana to give asylum to Afghan refugees and accommodate them at Dukwi refugee camp.
The Minister of Defense, Justice and Security Kagiso Mmusi said although his sister Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation has not engaged him on the matter, there is a bit of hesitancy owing to the danger that comes with Afghan refugees.
Mmusi highlighted that discussions on whether or not to accommodate the refugees have been a contentious issue between his sister Ministry and the US government.
“I have not been engaged on the issue since I understand that this has been a matter on the table of Foreign Affairs but once the matter has been concluded that is when we will be able to know a way forward,”
“Obviously when you take in refugees there are protocols that need to be followed and in this case nothing will change,” said Mmusi.
He said if government agrees to host the Afghan refugees there will be a need to see how best to mitigate security concerns that comes with the refugees.
“We currently have space at Dukwi camp and in the last three months we accommodated DRC refugees in large numbers, but like you know in the past we used to house mostly the Namibian refugees,” added Mmusi.
He stated that the current available space can accommodate up to 1 000 refugees, adding there will have to be refurbishments.
“We will await our sister Ministry to advice on the way forward. I cannot say what could have stalled but one can only say there are many issues such as diplomatic relations and advisory that needs to be satisfied before any decision can be taken,” said Mmusi.
For his part, United Nations High Commissioner For Refugees Communications Manager Buchizya Mseteka said UNHCR is concerned that recent developments in Afghanistan are giving rise to an increase in international protection needs for people fleeing Afghanistan, whether as refugees under the 1951 Convention or as beneficiaries of other forms of international protection.
“As the situation in Afghanistan remains fluid and uncertain, UNHCR calls on all countries to allow civilians fleeing Afghanistan access to their territories and to always ensure respect for the principle of non-refoulement,”
He added that UNHCR is not engaged in evacuations of people leaving Afghanistan but has ramped up its assistance and preparedness internally in Afghanistan as well as for people seeking asylum in neighboring and other countries affected.
“Evacuations and the accompanying logistics are currently being conducted bilaterally between states and entities with relevant receiving governments,” said Mseteka.
He added that the total number of asylum seekers and refugees in Botswana, according to UNHCR records, in the first week of October 2021, stands at 745 individuals.
“This figure is made up of 685 refugees and 60 asylum seekers from multiple countries which include Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda, Somalia, Uganda, and Zimbabwe,” said Mseteka.
In August, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of International Affairs and Cooperation, Dr Gladys Mokhawa told this publication that the US government reached out to Botswana to accommodate an unspecified number of Afghan nationals.
“I can confirm that the US government has approached Botswana government on the matter,” said Mokhawa.
She said discussions were ongoing and government is currently satisfying its own internal processes.
“We recently issued a statement through the human rights council where the issue is being discussed, so at this point we cannot give an answer as to what will happen next because negotiations are ongoing,” added Mokhawa.
She also said Botswana will be guided by its representative at the multi-lateral organization in terms of decision that should be taken.
Mokhawa also said currently, Botswana does not have diplomatic relations with Afghanistan.