Thursday, August 5, 2021

UNHCR against repatriation of Zimbabwean refugees

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has expressed concern over Botswana recent repatriation of Zimbabwean political refugees from Dukwi Refugee Camp.

Sunday Standard understands that the UNHCR is unhappy with Botswana’s decision to force the refugees and other Zimbabweans in need of international protection to return home.

Reports show that some of the refugees fled their country in 2008 following an outbreak of political violence that reportedly followed Mugabe’s alleged defeat at the hands of Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) led by the late Morgan Tsvangirai. 

Former South African President Thabo Mbeki brokered a power sharing deal but Tsvangirai reportedly pulled out of it as violence escalated during the next elections. 

Sunday Standard has turned up information showing that on Thursday this week authorities from the Department of Immigration rounded up some Zimbabwean refugees and forcefully evicted them from the refugee camp in what is described as forced repatriation. 

In an emailed response to Sunday Standard queries, UNHCR spokesperson Kate Pond confirmed the latest development.

“We understand the group numbered 57 people, but it may be fewer. We are verifying the numbers with the government,” she said. 

She added that the “UNHCR is aware that the government of Botswana took action today (April 15, 2021) to remove a group of Zimbabweans under immigration law and procedures,” she said. According to Pond, Zimbabweans who have been recognized as refugees are still in the camp adding that those with Batswana family links are still there as well as some students with permits.

Pond pointed out that “UNHCR remains concerned that Zimbabweans who have been in Botswana for over a decade have been removed to Zimbabwe in less than voluntary circumstances. Irrespective of their status, they still have certain rights, and UNHCR had aimed for alternative solutions, like those provided to Zimbabweans who have families in Batswana and may be able to remain in the country as permanent residents.”

Regarding UNHCR’s position on this, Pond said “We strongly urge the government to treat them with dignity, in accordance with their human rights,” adding that “the use of force should be avoided at all costs.” 

Pond said her office continues to advocate the protection of those in need of international protection.

Asked if her office was aware that some Zimbabwean refugees among them former soldiers had served the Botswana Government with a statutory notice to challenge their repatriation to Zimbabwe, she said “We have brought the situation of military deserters to the attention of the government of Botswana.” Pond said UNHCR understands that the people “with that profile were not part of the group that was returned and can remain in Botswana for the time being.

Immediate comment from the Ministry of Defence Justice and Security Bonolo Tabalaka was not available. She had acknowledged receipt of the questions.

This publications sought to know among others  how many Zimbabwean refugees residing at Dukwi refugee camp were repatriated beginning of 16 April 2021, the Ministry’s position on reports that some of the refugees had not registered for repatriation and were forcefully sent back to their country of origin and whether some of the refugees among them former soldiers had served the Ministry with a statutory notice aimed at challenging the decision as well as the position of the Government on the matter. 

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