An official of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), Madoda Nasha, said they are against detention of asylum seekers.
Nasha was speaking at the opening of the Ditshwanelo-Botswana Human Rights Centre annual human rights film festival at Maru-a-Pula on Thursday. He was leading a discussion about the situation of refugees in country. The UNHCR official spoke about the procedures undertaken when one is seeking asylum.
Some of the dignitaries who attended the event included diplomats and the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Relations, Phandu Skelemani who conducted the official opening.
Nasha said they are against the detention of asylum seekers but that was what the Botswana government was doing.
He said at times, the asylum seekers are locked up at the Illegal Immigrants Centre in Francistown for up to four months while their applications are being processed.
Nasha said the United Nations Convention for Refugees, which Botswana is a signatory of, does not allow the detention of asylum seekers. He said Botswana had signed the convention with reservations.
The UNHCR official said they have been holding talks with the government on the issue of detaining asylum seekers. "It is a diplomatic dialogue," he said. He added that this is an issue that should be discussed at high level.
He said the government has made arrangements that children of asylum seekers should be
The Minister of Defence, Justice and Security, Ndelu Seretse, said the UNHCR has direct access to the ministry. He said they should have raised the matter with his office.
Seretse said it is not true that Botswana detains asylum seekers. He said they are not detained in prisons or police cells.
"We don't detain asylum seekers. We have a centre for illegal immigrants where we keep them. He stated that this is done in an effort to protect the asylum seekers. He indicated that asylum seekers cannot be allowed to roam around. "You need to assess and protect them," he said. He conceded that the asylum seekers' freedom was constrained when they are kept at the illegal immigrants centre.
The asylum seekers are kept at the centre until their application has been processed.
However, Seretse said the process does not take up to four months. He said it is not in the interest of the country to keep asylum seekers for a long time at the centre. He added that it would also be costly for the government.
It is only when an asylum seeker has been granted refugee status, that they could be moved to Dukwi refugee.