FRANCISTOWN: The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has clarified that not all Zimbabwean refugees at the Dukwi refugee camp will be repatriated.
This was revealed by Kate Pond, UNHCR External Relations Officer for the South Africa Representation and Multi-Country Office (SAMCO).
SAMCO covers nine countries; Botswana, Comoros, eSwatini, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mauritius, Namibia, Seychelles and South Africa.
The Monitor contacted UNHCR following articles mainly published by Zimbabwean publications that the government will forcefully repatriate about 300 Zimbabwe refugees in Botswana contrary to Articles 33 and 42 of the Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees.
Article 33 (Prohibition of expulsion or return (“refoulement”) reads: “1. No Contracting State shall expel or return (“refouler”) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.” “2. The benefit of the present provision may not, however, be claimed by a refugee whom there are reasonable grounds for regarding as a danger to the security of the country in which he is, or who, having been convicted by a final judgement of a particularly serious crime, constitutes a danger to the community of that country.”
Article 42 reads: (Reservations) reads: “1. At the time of signature, ratification or accession, any State may make reservations to articles of the Convention other than to articles 1, 3, 4, 16(1), 33, 36-46 inclusive.” “2. Any State making a reservation in accordance with paragraph 1 of this article may at any time withdraw the reservation by a communication to that effect addressed to the secretary-general of the United Nations.”
Recently, there was anxiety over the fate of the Zimbabwean refugees after they were told to voluntarily register for repatriation by February 28 failure to which immigration laws will be used to deport them to Zimbabwe. Some of the Zimbabwean refugees who came to Botswana following the controversial 2008 general elections are former Zimbabwe Defence Force (ZDF) soldiers who fear being court-martialled upon their return to Zimbabwe.
Although the refugees have been promised a safe and secure return home by the tripartite pact, it is well chronicled that before the 2008 elections, which some believe the late president Robert Mugabe lost to the late MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, the police and army chiefs, including today’s Vice President Zimbabwe Constantine Chiwenga, suggest fear still exists within the Zimbabwe refugee community about the ruling regime.
The police and army chiefs were quoted by various media outlets before the 2008 general elections as saying that “they will not allow Robert Mugabe to be defeated in this month’s presidential election by opposition candidates they deride as ‘puppets’ and ‘sell-outs’ to Britain.”
The fear of Zimbabwean refugees the world over is that although there was a bitter fallout between Mugabe and his former allies in Zanu-PF, the army and the police, which led to the ascension to power of Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa, the current regime may still court-martial the ex-soldiers for desertion after they refused to harass or beat civilians. The move to repatriate the refugees follows protracted negotiations between the governments of Botswana and Zimbabwe and the United Nations Refugee Agency.
During the last consultative meeting that was held at the Dukwi Refugee Camp early this month, the refugees who volunteered to return were promised food parcels for three months, $520 each amongst other incentives.
The spokesperson of UNHCR said: “In the meantime, UNHCR’s position is that it is aware of a story circulating that Zimbabwean refugees in Botswana are being forced to repatriate. We are concerned that this story could cause anxiety in the refugee community, and are keen to underline that Zimbabweans who are in need of international refugee protection will continue to remain in Botswana.”
She continued: “UNHCR’s team reviewed the asylum claims of the Zimbabweans in Dukwi camp in Botswana in recent months. Those in need of international protection will continue to be supported while those found not to require international protection are subject to immigration measures like any other foreign national. She added: “We encourage the continuation of constructive dialogue between the Governments of Botswana and Zimbabwe with UNHCR, to ensure all movements of return are orderly, humane, safe and dignified. As UNHCR we will continue to advocate for voluntary returns for everyone who wants to return.”
The Monitor also sent a follow-up questionnaire to UNHCR asking if it is aware of a lobby group called Zimbabwe People Power Movement (ZPPM), which reportedly petitioned the UNHCR headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland about the ‘forced’ repatriation of Zimbabwean refugees from Botswana to Zimbabwe. In response, Pond said: “We do not have any official communication about a message sent by Zimbabweans to UNHCR Geneva.” According to Sowetanlive, ZPPM claims to have written to UNHCR saying that the Zimbabwean refugees will be persecuted upon their return home. “It appears like the UNHCR Botswana and Botswana government have closed all avenues of help to these poor souls and the only remaining gap is for the people to return to Zimbabwe.