Scores of refugees from the Dukwi refugee camp are reported to fleeing from the camp following a decision by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) to cut some food items and other amenities in what is seen as a calculated plan to force some refugees into voluntary repatriation.
The latest development comes at a time when government officials, including Minister of Defence, Security and Justice Ramadeluka Seretse and UNHCR officials have been holding a series of meetings urging refugees to return to their countries of origin. Botswana has been pressuring the UNHCR to repatriate Zimbabwean and Namibian refugees in Dukwi.
Documents passed to the Sunday Standard indicate that food deliveries for the months of April, May and June this year were delayed or ‘suspended’ and they are to be distributed “beginning Monday, 7 July 2014… and ending on Tuesday 8 July 2014 at 5 PM.” The documents state that “for April distribution will be for those who did not receive food in April. Note that food will only be given to those presenting their own valid ID or note signed and stamped by a UNHCR Officer. No misconduct will be allowed or tolerated.” The documents also state that “for June 2014 distribution, one or more food or non-food items may not be available. If that happens, UNHCR will provide those items at the forthcoming distribution…” “We also apologize that the distribution of paraffin will not take place until further notice,” state the documents.
The UNHCR states that in accordance with regular distribution standards, each individual is entitled to 12.5 kg of maize meal, 1kg of sugar, 500g of salt, 75ml of cooking oil, 1 box of soup, 1,500g of beans, 75g of soap and sanitary pads (women only) per a month. The Dukwi refugee camp is home to more than 3000 refugees mostly from different countries in Africa. Information gathered thus far indicates that the unavailability of some food items and amenities have forced refugees to leave the camp in large numbers in search of menial jobs while some have opted to be repatriated to their countries of origin.
The ministry of defence, justice and security which is in charge of the camp has now come up with a new law that restricts the movement of refugees outside the camp. Only 15 permits are given out per week. Recently two refugees from Dukwi were released from prison by Francistown High Court Judge Phadi Solomon after they had petitioned UN head office.The standoff between Government, UNHRC and refugees started a few months ago when three refugees from Uganda petitioned the UN head office in Gaborone over what they called callous living conditions at the camp. In an earlier interview, the refugees spoke out against appalling living conditions at Dukwi refugee camp where they are “kept like prisoners without work and travel rights.”
The trio claims they receive inadequate food rations and that they have not been provided with clothing for more than 10 years. They said they resorted to hunger strike after UNHCR turned a deaf ear on their complaints. They also complained against the Botswana government’s insensitive policies towards refugees. UNHCR office in Botswana declined to comment and referred further inquiries to Senior Regional External Relations Officer (UNHCR Regional Office for Southern Africa) Tina Ghelli who was “out of office.”
A warning letter from the Dukwi Settlement Commandant to the refugees signed by Alfred Ditsele dated 26 June 2014 addressed to some refugees who ‘fled from the camp’ states that “you left the camp without permission. This follows an incident in which you were arrested by the police after you failed to produce and exit permit. Our records reveal that you were not granted permit to go out of the camp. I have to enlighten you that this is a serious misconduct which can lead to revocation/withdrawal or review of your refugee status by the minister.”
Ditsele further warned that “this is not tolerated in the camp as parts of the camp’s regulations are part of the rules that control refugees in Botswana. You are seriously warned from leaving the camp in future.”