A Zimbabwean man, James Mushandu, who has been living in Botswana as a recognized refugee since December 2002, says that he is in great distress after he requested to be repatriated back to his homeland only for Zimbabwe to refuse to take him back.
The Botswana government is now demanding that Mushandu, who now is in possession of a Zimbabwe emergency travel document, goes back to the Francistown Center for Illegal Immigrants (FCII) to start the whole process all over again but with no guarantee that the Refugee Advisory Committee will grant him asylum again.
Mushandu says he spent about two years at the FCII before he was accepted into the country and granted refugee status in 2004.
The FCII is a prison at Francistown’s Gerald Estates where asylum seekers are kept while their requests for asylum are being processed.
Relating how he first came to Botswana and ended up in the situation he is in now, Mushandu said that he had skipped Zimbabwe after he was tortured by security agents and some suspected ZANU-PF activists who accused him of being an opposition party activist.
He said in Botswana, he was kept at the FCII prison for two years then given refugee status in 2004.
In 2011, he had then decided to go back home and approached the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) for assistance to be repatriated.
Armed with a letter showing that he had volunteered to return home, he headed for the Zimbabwean border post of Plumtree where he was told who to contact at the UNHCR in Zimbabwe.
The Zimbabwean border authorities, however, refused to let him back into the country after interrogating him. He said he was asked to account for where he got the money to buy a car in Botswana if he was a refugee. The Zimbabwean immigration authorities also wanted to know what he told Botswana authorities before he was granted asylum and even asked for a copy of letters he had written to Botswana authorities when asking for asylum.
“I tried as much as possible to answer their questions but they did not budge. How could I be asked to produce Botswana government documents?” he said. “I think they had just made up their minds that they would not allow me or any other returning refugee back into the country of our birth.”
On his return from Zimbabwe, the UNHCR made it clear to him that the Botswana government would only reconsider reinstating him as a refugee if he submitted himself to the Refugee Advisory Committee in Francistown through the FCII and that the Committee will then make recommendations to the Minister of Defence, Justice and Security in regard to his request for reinstatement as a refugee.
Mushandu says he knows this means going back to prison where he had spent two years which he says he is very scared of.
Asked what he now plans to do, he said, “I am trapped; I do not know what to do and I only have 15 days to stay here after which I will be an illegal immigrant.”
Mushandu says if he is deported, there are serious consequences ahead and hopes that Botswana will understand and have his case handled properly between governments and with the involvement of the UNHCR in both countries along with the International Organisation on Migration.
“This is a normal procedure,” said a source at the Dukwi Refugee Camp who refused to be named. “This is not peculiar to this man but applies to everyone. It’s also for the protection of other refugees that the Refugee Advisory Committee be appraised about a failed repatriation so that they take a decision and make a recommendation to government.”
Mushandu added: “I now don’t belong anywhere. For years, Botswana gave me protection and for that I am thankful. I went to my protectors in good faith and said I think I was ready to try for repatriation. Unbelievably, my own country rejected me now I don’t belong anywhere.”
Attempts to get comment from the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Defence, Justice and Security, Augustine Makgonatsotlhe, were futile as his office phone continuously rang without being answered.