Court records suggest that the Botswana Government attempted to starve 928 Namibian refugees out of Dukwi refugee camp in the Central District.
This emerged in a case in which the Namibian refugees were challenging the termination of their status as refugees and the decision to repatriate them to Namibia where they believe they are likely to face persecution by that country’s authorities.
Responding to the allegations raised by the lead applicant Felix Kakula, Secretary for Defence Justice and Security in the Ministry of Defence Justice and Security Augustine Makgonatsotlhe denied that the refugees were at anytime removed and forcefully sent to Namibia. He said all those who repatriated did so voluntarily in dignity and safety.
“The only group of people that were at some point provided with food rations were those who on their own accord failed to appear for a mandatory verification profiling exercise conducted in March. It should be noted that everything at the camp is done according to laid down rules and this includes provision of food rations,” said Makgonatsotlhe.
He also denied that the refugees were promised favours in return for completion of repatriation forms. For his part, Dukwi Refugee Camp Settlement Commandant Bonang Batekele said he was surprised by some of the allegations made by the refugees.
“In particular, the fact that the refugees were forced to go back to Namibia is something that caught me by surprise. What also surprised me is the allegation that they link their failure to participate if the verification and profiling exercise which resulted in them not getting food with the repatriation exercise,” he said. He added that “It is even more surprising when the Applicants fail to tell the court that I personally together with my co-workers worked for long hours to get the applicants back into the system and the rest of compliant refugees.”
Batekele further stated that “those whose rations have been temporarily halted are the ones who absconded from the camp without letting the authorities know their whereabouts.”
Kakula alleges in his affidavit that refugees who refused to complete the forms were denied food rations at the camp.
“Others, with further education opportunities like Nicholas Tonda, were denied permission to go for courses that go beyond December 2015 since that was the deadline for repatriation and we were denied exit permit to leave the Dukwi camp,” he said.
According to Kakula they were categorically told that those who have not completed
the forms for voluntary repatriation will be sent back home as their refugee status will be revoked and will be declared illegal immigrants.
“During the voluntary repatriation exercise, those who had applied had their names sent to Namibia for screening and the process took long, with some desiring to repatriate being rejected. It is unclear as to who, and on what basis do determine criterion to pass the screening test and who fail for what reason,” he said. The High Court has since interdicted the government from carrying out its repatriation exercise.