Thursday, March 4, 2021

Defence Ministry takes media by hand on refugee reporting

The Ministry of Defence, Justice and Security in conjunction with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) the past week engaged members of the press in a one and half days workshop aimed at sensitizing them on factual reporting of asylum issues.

When welcoming participants and opening the workshop, the Permanent Secretary in the Defence, Justice and Security Ministry, Augustine Makgonatsotlhe, appreciated their presence and advised them of their importance as partners in disseminating information on asylum issues.

“You should be aware that we go about receiving asylum seekers in our country transparently. We do that confining to both national and international laws. You should acquaint yourselves with processes applied in granting asylum seekers the refugee status,” he said. He added that it is unfortunate that journalists often hurry to print articles without having gathered enough information and therefore publish wrong information. The workshop was called to address this and advise practitioners to be sensitive when reporting on asylum issues.

The UNHCR Chief of Mission, Shana Kaninda told the media practitioners that the protection of asylum seekers was the responsibility of the host states while the UNHCR provided support.

Bonang Leepo, Settlement Commandant at the Dukwi camp told media practitioners that Botswana is currently hosting approximately 3020 refugees from African countries. That they are predominantly from the SADC region, the Great Lakes region and the Horn of Africa, and that management of refugees is undertaken by the Government in Partnership with the UNHCR which is called Technical Partners.
“There are implementing partners who are engaged under a tri-partite arrangement. These are other government agencies like Ministry of Health, Education,” he explained.

On the Status Determination Process, Batekele said declaration by asylum seekers was done at the point of entry ÔÇô borders and airports observed by the rightful officials- Immigration and Police officers. For further interviews the asylum seekers are referred to UNHCR, DIS and Ministry of Defence Justice and Security (MDJS).

Next they are sent for ‘Detention’ at the Francistown center for Illegal Immigrants. This is followed by formation of Refugee Advisory Committee; normally headed by the District Commissioner. The committee conducts interviews and makes recommendations to Minister-MDJS
“The Minister makes determination to grant or reject applications. The applicants are informed by Settlement Commandant how their applications went-whether they were rejected or not. Granted cases go to Dukwi Refugee camp. Rejected cases remain in the ‘detention’ Centre. UNHCR is afforded chance to conduct further assessment on rejected cases and make recommendations to Government,” said Batekele to attentive participants.

Through this detailed presentation of how exactly Botswana’s policy on asylum seekers and refugees works media practitioners would get clear picture of what is really happening in this sensitive subject.. It was repeatedly stated by various presenters during the workshop, how asylum seekers differ from refugees, as well as various terminologies that scribes often used inappropriately.

A refugee is someone who owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion is outside the country of his/her nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling avail himself/herself to the protection of that country. While asylum seeker is a person who seeks international protection claiming that he or she has suffered or fears persecution as described under the 1951 Geneva Convention and is waiting for a decision.

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