Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Refuges on hunger strike against callous living conditions

Three asylum seekers from Dukwi refugee camp have launched a hunger strike outside the United Nations offices in Gaborone to protest against callous living conditions they are subjected to by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and Botswana Government. The trio, Timothy Yamin, Musa Mohammed and Peter Muganga who began camping outside the United Nations head office since Thursday warned on Friday that they won’t back down. They demand among others that they be granted citizenship or resettled to another country. The refugees spoke out against appallingly living conditions at Dukwi refugee camp where they are kept like prisoners without work and travel rights.

The hunger strikers claim they receive inadequate food rations and that they have not been provided with clothing for more than ten years. The tree asylum seekers resorted to hunger striking after UNHCR turned a deaf ear at their complaints. The also complained against Botswana government’s insensitive policies towards refugees. “There is no integration; encampment policies are to exist due to the reservation that Botswana has made when it signed the 1954 convention. Thus as refugees we are not allowed to leave the camp at will; we are not allowed to work and enjoy only a limited right to education and the list of grievances goes on,” states the letter. The refugees also complain that the situation at Dukwi Refugee Camp is deplorable; “Our women, girls and daughters are sometimes forced by circumstances to find immoral ways of acquiring the basic needs such as sanitary pads, bras, milk for the babies; they have to trade their bodies to get these basic necessities.”

The refugees say their last resort is to camp at the UN building in Gaborone which is the building that host their embassy until they get the assistance that they need. “We shall be sleeping at the UN building, staying there until we get help. The only request is that please allow the security guards to allow us to use the toilets and bathrooms so that the hygiene of the place is maintained.

We are determined to stage the sit-in for as long as it takes for us to get helped accordingly,” state the refugees. By Friday at the time of going to press there was no “permanent solution … forthcoming form the concerned offices” and the refugees said they had started an indefinite hunger strike. Responding to Sunday Standard queries, Senior Regional External Relations Officer, Tina Ghelli who is based at the UNHCR Regional Office for Southern Africa in Pretoria said as in every country where UNHCR works, refugees are able to address their complaints to UNHCR staff in the country. “If for any reason, they feel that their issues are not being addressed appropriately, there are other channels through which they can raise their concerns in a confidential manner and without fear of repercussions, such as the UNHCR Inspector General Office in Geneva,” she said.

She added that “UNHCR considers all correspondence received from refugees as confidential matters and to ensure the protection of all refugees, we do not discuss them with the media.” Protection Officer at the UNHCR office in Gaborone Mariacristina Mulas had promised to respond to Sunday Standard queries but she had not done so at time of going to press. Botswana Government, on the other hand has not taken kindly to the accusations leveled against it by the three men describing them as “disgruntled.” “The issues raised by the three disgruntled gentlemen lack truth and credibility and resonates with what we believe to be an intention to coerce the Botswana Government and the UNHCR to pursue their unrealistic demands for resettlement in the developed countries,” said spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence, Justice and Security, Gagotshwane Tabudi.

She stated that no country has ever expressed any interest in any of the three men. “This Ministry has to state that regular inspections within the Dukwi Refugee Camp have found all claims made by the three gentlemen to be unfounded and devout of any truth, except being malicious and aimed at causing discomfort to the law abiding refugees who have come to Botswana with credible submissions for asylum seeking. Notably, they have failed to rally anybody behind them,” she said.

Tabudi said Muganga is not a refugee, but an illegal immigrant. She said when he came to Botswana and applied for asylum, he could not be granted asylum as he was not recommended for asylum three times by the Refugee Advisory Committee. She described him as a “clear candidate for deportation under the Immigration Act, and processes are in place to do so.” “He is aware of this, hence his misdirected anger, attitude and behaviour,” charged Tabudi. Tabudi also said Yamin was granted asylum in 2000, and subsequently married a Motswana woman hoping to get Botswana citizenship. She said he was advised that despite his marriage to a Botswana citizen, he has to satisfy the requirements of the Citizenship Act, which unfortunately he has not been able to meet.

“He has not taken kindly to this, hence wild onslaught against Botswana Government. As he has failed local citizenship requirements, he then sought to apply for resettlement, which makes his case untenable for his resettlement,” she said. As for Mohammed, Tabudi said he was granted asylum in 1998. She said since his arrival in the country Mohammed has by attitude, behaviour and verbal expressions refused to comply with the Refugees (Recognition and Control) Act (CAP 25:01).

Tabudi also accused Mohammed of defying the existing, refugee management policies, guidelines and systems agreed to between Botswana and the UNHCR. “By so refusing to comply with these provisions like all other refugees, and wanting to be treated as if he was above the law and guidelines in place, which cannot be allowed, will only make himself liable for consequences arising out of the needful processes to be effected,” she said.


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