Deportation looms for 910 Namibian refugees

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Officials from the United Nations and the governments of Botswana and Namibia are scrambling to persuade 910 Namibian refugees at Dukwi to return to their native country and avoid deportation after a December 31 deadline elapses.

Under a mutual agreement, the voluntary repatriation programme ends on December 31, 2015 after which remaining refugees will lose their refugee status and be liable to deportation.

Few of the refugees have identity documents as many settled as far back as 17 years ago, fleeing secessionist violence in Namibia, while others were born in the refugee camp.

Dukwi Refugee Camp’s Settlement Commandant, Bonang Batekele told Mmegi that local immigration authorities would be engaged to handle the matter once the deadline elapses. “The law states that their status as refugees and their protection as such falls away,” he said.

“They will fall under immigration law, but you cannot go to immigration without a passport or proof that you have lawfully passed through a border post.

“We will engage immigration to handle the matter.”

About 3,000 were housed in Dukwi, most having fled the Caprivi Strip in 1998 at the height of secessionist violence in that country. While the majority have crossed back to Namibia, the 910 currently at Dukwi are said to fear prosecution or reprisals from authorities in that country for their role in the conflict. The Caprivi treason trial at one point involved 132 suspects and 278 charges.

However, in an interview from his Windhoek base, Namibian Commissioner of Refugees, Likius Valombola told Mmegi that the treason case over the Caprivi conflict had long been resolved.

He said with the assistance of the United Nations Human Rights Commission for Refugees, Namibia was offering grants of US$300 for adults and US$200 for children, as well as three months food provision, building materials and speedy identity document processing.

“We are encouraging them to register before 31 December so that they can be part of what has been agreed in the Safety and Dignity package, which includes the grant, building materials, food and others,” he said.

“There’s nothing to fear here. There is normalcy. Those that have come back have already settled well with their families, without persecution.

“They should come back to their motherland.” Asked about the possibility of deportation for remaining refugees, Valombola said the matter was the prerogative of the Botswana government, saying Namibia would take its cue from its neighbour.

“We are putting mechanisms in place in the event that some will stay behind as illegal immigrants and we are working closely with the government of Botswana,” he said.

“The treason trial should not be used as a scapegoat. The process has been done already at the High Court and it’s closed.

“What the government of Namibia is doing is to encourage them to come back home and integrate into their communities to serve the national interest.” Valombola said Namibia was aware that many of the refugees had no identity documents as they had fled either without, or were born in Dukwi. He said these would be processed for returnees in a fast-tracked manner.

“All these provisions will be given only to those who voluntarily register to be repatriated. It will not be provided to those who don’t register. “If they let December 31 pass, then they will no longer qualify and that’s why we are urging them to register now.”

On Friday, a group of 16 former Namibian refugees returned to their home country to what local state media described as “a warm welcome” from authorities there.

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