Somali nationals allegedly fleeing xenophobic attacks in the neighboring South Africa are trooping into the country in search of a safe haven at Dukwi Refugee Camp – some 180km northwest of Francistown.
Xenophobic attacks targeting Somalis in South Africa have become a regular occurrence. Since 2006, Somalis have failed to find peace in the neighboring South Africa as citizens of that country, mainly unemployed youths, continue to harass migrants from war-ravaged Somalia.
Racist attacks aimed at Somalis are now pushing Somalis who have sought refuge in South Africa to flee into Botswana. The Somalis, mostly shop owners, have been forced to flee the continent’s economic powerhouse for the semi arid but diamond rich nation of Botswana.
Rather than facing death at the hands of unemployed South African youths, Somalis take risks of suffocating to death in container trucks while crossing into Botswana illegally in search for place of safety. Some of the Somalis come from as far as Mamelodi in Pretoria.
During the attacks, the Somalis lose their goods that are being looted. According to informed sources, the attacks are violent and some Somalis are losing their lives while others are injured in the process.
Although Samma Tabudi, the Ministry of Defense, Justice and Security spokesperson professed ignorance about the development, informed sources have said that Somalis are flooding the country in search of sanctuary.
21-year-old Abde Rashid – a Somali national – said South Africa is not safe for Somalis. He said he had a spaza shop in South Africa but was forced to abandon it after it was razed down to ashes.
He was among a group which escaped the strife in Mamelodi East. After watching a fellow Somali being attacked by a group of young people who also raided, and emptied, his spaza shop, Rashid decided to leave everything and cross into Botswana.
The foreign national said things had quickly gotten out of hand in South Africa.
“They have been targeting our businesses. Organized groups of youth have been coming with so much force, they swept everything in their path,” said Rashid, who have been in South Africa the past ten years. He said one of the Somalis who accompanied him into Botswana was burnt on his right leg.
“The youth broke his leg and many bones in his body. As you can see, he cannot walk properly,” he said.
When approached for comment, the injured Somali national refused to be interviewed. With tears forming in his eyes, the Somali national only pulled up his trousers to show this writer the wound he sustained during the attacks.
Rashid and other asylum seekers are currently housed at the Francistown Centre for Illegal Immigrants where they are awaiting the approval or disapproval of their refugee status in Botswana.
Augustine Makgonatsotlhe, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Defense, Justice and Security told the Patriot on Sunday, people seeking asylum are not refugees but illegal immigrants.
Asked if there were Somalis seeking asylum after fleeing xenophobic attacks in South Africa, Makgonatsotlhe responded: “That is the information that can be obtained from the chairperson of the Refugees Advisory Committee. Francistown DC (Cordelier Mphape) is the chairperson.”
However, Makgonatsotlhe was quick to point out that the Francistown DC cannot share the information with the press because “it is classified information.”
When revealed to him that some of the Somalis have confirmed that they are fleeing ‘xenophobic’ attacks in South Africa, Makgonatsotlhe said: “Those people can tell all sorts of stories in order to win one’s sympathy. And since the local media is so gullible, you then rush to believe everything you are told.”
Dukwi Refugee Camp’s Settlement Commandant, Bonang Leepo said migrants seeking refuge “are always crossing into the country” and go straight to the only refugee centre.
“But on that specific matter (of Somalis flooding Dukwi), I cannot comment because I am not currently in the office,” Leepo told Mmegi.
Superintended Goitsemang Mokgathe of Dukwi Police Station confirmed that the police always arrest illegal immigrants but could not be drawn into discussing where the undocumented travelers would be originating from.
Dukwi Refugee Camp is already home to over 3 000 refugees. The asylum seekers are from Zimbabwe, Namibia, and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as well as the ever volatile Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes.