Mmegi Online :: Is Botswana unfriendly to asylum seekers
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Last Updated
Thursday 24 May 2018, 11:49 am.
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Is Botswana unfriendly to asylum seekers

Following what is suspected to have transpired at Francistown Centre for Illegal Immigrants (FCII) where around 300 rejected asylum seekers were alleged to have suffered abuse at the hands of prison officers, can one say Botswana is unfriendly to asylum seekers. This is the question that human rights activists are asking themselves Mmegi Staff Writer PINI BOTHOKO writes
By Pini Bothoko Fri 22 Dec 2017, 13:10 pm (GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: Is Botswana unfriendly to asylum seekers








It is alleged that rejected asylum seekers, mostly from Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), who spent months at FCII suffered abuses such as assault, sexual assault to mention but a few. Following the alleged abuse they suffered before their relocation to Dukwi Refugee Camp and when informed that they were to be relocated back to FCII, it is an open secret that they fled the country in fear of their lives.

Even though the Ministry of Defence, Justice and Security is adamant that the rejected asylum seekers were not pushed out of the country and have never suffered any abuse at FCII, one could wonder why they decided to flee the country. Under normal circumstances no one can flee where they receive the best treatment. Something is not adding up here. Over the years there have been battles involving the government and refugees something that one can confidently say government’s hostility towards refugees is not a new thing.

Recently there have been reports that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHR) expressed disappointment with the government of Botswana’s mistreatment of asylum seekers that ended up fleeing the country. The asylum seekers, who were detained for a while at FCII under the prison department, were in July freed after a court application by human rights lawyer, Morgan Moseki and were relocated to Dukwi refugee camp.

The government appealed to the Court of Appeal and won the case and whilst in the process of relocating the asylum seekers back to FCII, most skipped the country. It is alleged that recently government dispatched three big trucks to relocate them from Dukwi refugee camp but only found one asylum seeker from Zimbabwe.

About 200 reportedly fled to Zimbabwe while close to 200 found refuge in Namibia with some of them already granted refugee status. It is alleged that at FCII the asylum seekers were treated as prisoners. They were separated from their families and their movements restricted in contravention to the UN refugee agency policy on forced displacements.

Images of some of the asylum seekers sleeping in the open, without shelter, went viral on social media with followers mostly locals condemning and accusing the government of mistreating asylum seekers. They had designed structures like shelter using their clothes.

Reached for a comment on what transpired recently at FCII, Felix Kakula, the spokesperson of Caprivan Community in Botswana, condemned the way government treated the said asylum seekers.

He said that they stayed for years at the centre something that destroyed their future.

“Their relationship was poor because they stayed at the centre for long time without any progress in their lives something that pushed them to flee the country. Those asylum seekers were running away and they did so in the eyes of government, they ran away from being taken back to the centre where they suffered for years.  Amongst them were minors, but they spent years without access to education something that frustrated them. There

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was nothing happening with regard to their lives. It is not good for human beings to have been treated that way,” Kakula said.

Kakula criticised government’s policy that considers a person who has crossed more than three to four borders as likely to be running away from the law.

“Despite to have crossed many borders it is important for the government to consider interviewing asylum seekers immediately when they arrive and see how best they can assist them than putting them at the centre for years. When they are at the centre there is no how UNHR could assist or process anything for them hence important for the government to consider not keeping them for a long time at the centre. Whilst still at the centre there is no how UNHR can intervene but when they are at the camp they (UNHR) can at least find them a third country something which will be fair,” Kakula said. Kakula stated that when they were relocated to Dukwi camp they assisted accordingly as their children had the opportunity to attend school with parents given livelihood projects and that gave them hope.

“They came to Botswana thinking that the country will give them hope but made their situation even harder. There is a need for government to change some of its policy concerning both asylum seekers and refugees because they even have complicated issues that needs to be addressed,” Kakula said.

 However, the ministry’s permanent secretary, Segakweng Tsiane, when addressing the media during a press briefing recently accused asylum seekers of cooking up stories and not being genuine. She said they provided them with the wrong information during interviews on what forced them to leave their native countries.

“Some claimed to have been hurt when fleeing their native countries due to wars that had stirred up, but later on we saw reports in some local newspapers claiming that the scars were from assaulst they suffered at the centre. This shows that those people are not genuine and cannot be trusted. Yes, some of asylum seekers have in the past been granted refugee status because they had gone through horrible things, but it is disappointing for some to ride through what others have suffered,” Tsiane said.

She claimed not to be aware where the asylum seekers had fled to, as they were yet to establish how many of them left.

Tsiane also disputed reports that the centre treated asylum seekers like prisoners even though she failed to account why families were separated and not allowed to visit each other. She also dismissed allegations that after being assaulted, they were taken to the hospital handcuffed like prisoners. She confirmed that since 2015, Botswana has not granted anyone refugee status except those who their dependants were already at Dukwi refugee camp.

Botswana currently has 134 asylum seekers at FCII who are yet to be repatriated to their native countries and 2,137 refugees at Dukwi refugee camp.

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