Namibian refugees in Botswana have reacted with anger over a decision to repatriate them back to their homeland, fearing for persecution by the current government. The refugees have charged that the Namibian government would massacre them upon setting foot in Botswana’s northwestern neighbor.
Gripped with constant fear of being eliminated by the Namibian government, the refugees-who have been away from home since 1998, have pleaded with Botswana government and the international community to provide protection until the Hage Geingob administration is ready to accept them back. “We ran for a cause, others died in that event (of fleeing persecution) and others continue to die even today. We also appeal for the international community to urge the Namibian government to consider peaceful means to the Caprivi Strip dispute,” said Felix Kakula, spokesperson for the Namibian refugees housed at the Dukwi Refugee Camp, some 180km northwest of Francistown last Wednesday.
Kakula was addressing a tripartite commission meeting in which Namibia’s Home Affairs and Immigration Minister Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana, Botswana’s Defense, Justice and Security Minister Shaw Kgathi and United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) regional representative for southern Africa, Clementine Nkweta-Salami were in attendance at Dukwi.
Despite the fact that the governments of both Botswana and Namibia have agreed to revoke refugee status of the 988 Namibians that remained at Dukwi, refugees at the centre are resisting voluntary repatriation to their native country. “We appeal to Botswana to have a protective hand on us,” said Kakula.
Namibian refugees, mainly from the then Caprivi Strip and now renamed Zambezi region, sought place of safety in Botswana while fleeing from the political persecution meted on members and the leadership of the United Democratic Party (UDP) by the Namibian government.
With Botswana having ceased the refugee status of the Namibian asylum seekers, the expectation is that all the remaining Namibian refugees would have headed back to their native country by December 31 2015. However, the development has been received with anger from the refugees. “We are determined to face the extreme aggression of privation, torture and even death in our quest for peaceful solution to our cause. But Botswana government seems to have agreed in principle with the Namibian government to disregard international conventions and universal instruments,” said Kakula.
Universal instruments such as human life and human dignity were set to protect the vulnerable people from exposure to danger but the governments of Botswana and Namibia are disregarding them, he charged. He added: “The government of Botswana has conspired with the Namibian government in their evil plans to see us exterminated. We have given enough evidence of what SWAPO government has done to us from the 1960’s.”
Kakula said they have lost relatives, family members and countrymen in exile in Zambia and many others in Caprivi who were buried in mass graves and over 300 others on Botswana soil through natural causes. “We are ready to be taken in coffins from Botswana not by our own self. Without a permanent solution to our cause, we are not going anywhere. So go ahead with your plans to destroy us, we are not in a position to help you decimate us,” he quipped.
For her part, Iivula-Ithana said Namibia is committed to undertaking a dignified repatriation process of her refugees from Botswana back to their native country. “The Namibian refugees in Botswana are most welcome to return home, not only to enjoy the peace and stability but also to contribute to the realisation of a more prosperous nation,” said Iivula-Ithana.
Kgathi said the extra-ordinary tripartite commission meeting marks yet another important milestone in the solid partnership between the governments of Namibia and Botswana. He added that the solid partnership between Namibia and Botswana together with UNHCR is aimed at trying to bring a durable solution to the issue of Namibian refugees in Botswana. “We should commend ourselves for achievements made to date. Since the arrival of Namibian refugees in Botswana in 1998, the tripartite commission has facilitated the return of well over 2000 refugees in safety and dignity back to Namibia,” he said.