Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Botswana snubbed UNCHR over deportation of Ugandan refugees

Botswana Government has defied the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR)’s request not to deport two Ugandan refugees.

UNHCR had asked Government to follow due process and international and national legislation, information reaching The Telegraph this week has shown. 

 On 23 October, the High Court passed an order that President Ian Khama’s decision to declare the two men prohibited immigrants and ultimately deporting them was unconstitutional, irrational and unlawful.

This publication has gathered that UNHCR had advised the Botswana Government to immediately rescind its decision to declare the two Ugandan refugees prohibited immigrants but its plea fell on deaf ears.  

The two men Timothy Yamin and Musa Isabriyne were recently declared Prohibited Immigrants by President Ian Khama and deported to Uganda despite a High Court order restraining the Botswana Government from deporting them. 

Responding to The Telegraph queries, UNHCR Regional Office for Southern Africa (Senior Regional External Relations Officer) Tina Ghelli confirmed that UNHCR wrote to the Government of Botswana requesting them to follow due process after learning that the two men were in prison and possible deportation was being considered, citing international law. 

Asked if her organisation was informed about the Botswana Government’s decision to deport the two men, Ghelli said they were not informed. “We did not receive any prior notice from the Government (Botswana) that these two individuals would be deported.” 

This publication has also established that the UN organ is also in the process of establishing circumstances under which the two men were deported and their whereabouts. There are fears that the two men are likely to be prosecuted and possibly executed. 

“As we were not informed that they would be deported we did not receive any assurance about their safety in Uganda,” said Ghelli.

Asked if UNHCR had not failed in its mandate to protect the two men, Ghelli explained that “UNHCR is in the process of gathering information about the situation of these two men.” 

Reports have also emerged that the two men were married or had children with some Batswana and that their deportations mean that they had been displaced from their families. This publication sought to know if there is a possibility of family reunification.  

“It is too early at this stage to comment on family reunification as we are in the process of reassessing their situation. It is very unfortunate that the men have been separated from their wives and children,” said Ghelli.

 She added that they had also urged government to consider regularizing their stay under immigration law.

 “We are deeply concerned about these families being separated. We had reminded the government about the family unit as protected under the Children’s Act of Botswana and the Convention of the rights of Children,” said Ghelli. 

The President had also issued a directive that the two men who have children with Batswana women should not be visited by their attorneys or family members at the First Offenders Prison in the capital Gaborone where they were incarcerated. 

The attorney for the two men, Martin Dingake was recently quoted as saying that what the Botswana Government has done undermines the integrity of the judiciary.

 Dingake said the two men were secretly deported this month at night and reasons for their deportations were not provided. On a related matter, Ghelli declined to discuss the contents of correspondence between her organisation and the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Defence, Justice and Security, Segakweng Tsiane concerning the resettlement of 10 Eritrean football players recently granted asylum by Botswana Government. 

Ghelli denied reports that there was a hatched plan by the Botswana Government and her organisation to kick out the refugees from Botswana. 

“UNHCR would never conspire with any state to expel refugees from the country of asylum. On the contrary, UNHCR has assisted the Government of Botswana by providing UNHCR eligibility guidelines for their refugee status applications to help guide the Refugee Advisory Committee with their decision,” said Ghelli. 

She said the Eritreans were granted asylum on 27 October, 2015. 

“The three main durable solutions are voluntary repatriation, local integration or being given alternative legal status, such as citizenship or permanent residency in the country of asylum and the third one, is resettlement to a third country,” said Ghelli. 

She said the decision to refer these Eritrean refugees for resettlement will be based on individual assessments of their cases in light of established criteria. UNHCR will assess their cases, in a similar manner accorded to other refugees. Resettlement is a process that can take between two and three years.  

“Once referred for resettlement by UNHCR, the receiving countries undertake their own interviews and undertake a final decision on the cases. Once accepted, there are other processes required to be followed, such as security checks and health screenings. Only after completion of these steps and upon receiving final approval, would a refugee depart to the resettlement country,” she said. 

The refugees had been at loggerheads with the Botswana government and UNHCR over what they term callous conditions at Dukwi refugee camp, 547 kilometers from the capital Gaborone. 

At one point the refugees were arrested at UN High Commissioner for Refugees awaiting repatriation back to Dukwi camp. They were arrested after their protest at UN agency for refugees for appalling conditions at the camp. The two refugees claimed that despite the UNHCR failure to help them with food and clothing they even went to block their request to resettle them in their country of choice where they would be able to work for themselves.

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