FRANCISTOWN: The three-year battle by government to deport about 1,000 Namibian refugees from Dukwi camp turned sour this week, with law enforcement using force to sweep up individuals it believes are behind the resistance.
About 30 students due to write national examinations and in grades such as Standard 7, Form 3 and Form 5, were removed from their classrooms and taken to their parents, to await deportation. Some were taken to the Francistown Centre for Illegal Immigrants (FCII).
The move sparked widespread criticism, with a plea by the students’ representatives to First Lady Neo Masisi going viral on social media.
Mmegi has it on good authority that the government has shunned a proposal by some parents of the affected learners made to at least allow the 30 learners to take their examinations before being repatriated.
Some of the 30 learners are said to have missed mock examinations that were taken this week.
“Government instead offered that learners be repatriated to Namibia and then be allowed to come back for the exams, but some parents think there is no guarantee that the learners would be able to come back,” one source said yesterday.
Mmegi has also established that some of the learners who were forced to abandon their studies are currently being detained at the FCII. The government is currently processing documents for their deportation along other Namibian refugees. Sources have indicated that the repatriation is likely to start early next week.
Local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and lawyers, working on behalf of the refugees and their children, have been trying to secure compromise from government since last week.
Government appears unmoved however. Yesterday afternoon, the Justice, Defence and Security ministry issued a statement that only denied that the Special Support Group had been involved in rounding up the students.
“These children have had to be withdrawn from school to join their parents who are scheduled to leave Botswana on deportation,” said Pearl Ramokoka, acting permanent secretary in the ministry.
“There has not been any forceful removal of former Namibian refugee students from school by any member of the Special Support Group.”
She further closed the door on any negotiation over the planned mass deportation of the Namibians.
“It is worth noting as a matter of fact, that the Court of Appeal judgement confirmed the position that former Namibian refugees had to return to Namibia because they ceased to be refugees in 2015.
“In preparation for their return, a grace period of one month was given for their voluntary repatriation.
“The legal implication of the Court of Appeal decision is that the former Namibian refugees are now classified as illegal immigrants and as a result they have to be treated as such under the Immigration Act and accordingly be deported.”
Meanwhile local human rights NGO, Ditshwanelo appears to be fighting a losing battle to remedy the situation at Dukwi.
Ditshwanelo reportedly wrote a letter to the Justice Ministry pleading with government to stop the forced deportations.
“If we do not receive a response by the end of the week we will do a follow-up,” said an officer at the human rights NGO.
Ditshwanelo’s official statement on the matter states that it supports the refugees’ position that dialogue must be sought between them and the Government of Namibia.
“We maintain that the Government of Botswana facilitates the dialogue between the Government of Namibia and the Refugees (as per their request). It is a position we hold and support,” reads a Ditshwanelo statement released yesterday.
Dukwi councillor, Thatayaone Kehitile expressed disappointment with the government’s decision not to allow the learners to sit for their examinations before deportation.
“These learners have already been through a lot. Education is the only tool that they can use to navigate their way out of their troubles. They should be given a chance to write their examinations,” Kehitile said.
Kehitile added that not only learners have been gravely affected by the recent developments.
“There are Namibian men who are married to Batswana. Instead of giving them citizenship the government has decided that they will be deported, ultimately driving them away from their families. It is a sad situation.”
What is even more worrying, according to Kehitile, is that the government has also decided to deport Nambian refugees who were supposed to be repatriated to Canada after the latter approved their resettlement applications.
By yesterday afternoon, government was due to meet with the remaining Namibian refugees at Dukwi to finalise logistics for their deportation.