UN hurt by deportation of Ugandan refugees

Timothy Yamin and Musa Mohammed Isabirye. PIC MORERI SEJAKGOMO
Timothy Yamin and Musa Mohammed Isabirye. PIC MORERI SEJAKGOMO

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has expressed disappointment with President Ian Khama’s administration for total disregard of the law in the controversial deportation of the two Ugandan refugees.

Khama recently declared Musa Isabirye and Timothy Yamin prohibited immigrants and the two were secretly deported in blatant disregard of the court order.

In a written response to this publication, the UNHCR through its regional representation office in South Africa said: “It is regrettable that the deportation of these refugees occurred”.

The UN agency indicated that they were not part of the process despite being an important stakeholder in the issues of refugees.

The senior regional external relations officer, Tina Ghelli said: “UNHCR was not informed in advance that the deportations would occur and only learnt of it after the fact”.

Explaining circumstances in which refugees could be deported, Ghelli said the 1951 Refugee Convention allows for two exceptions to the principles of non-return.

“The two exceptions should only be applied as an extreme measure in restrictively defined situations where there are reasonable grounds for regarding the refugee to be a danger to the security of the country or when the refugee has been convicted by a final judgement of a particularly serious crime and constitutes a danger to the community of the country,” she said.

Ghelli also said, “UNHCR is of the opinion that the two Ugandan refugees did not warrant deportation since due process was not undertaken. In fact, UNHCR officially wrote to the Government of Botswana requesting them to follow due process after learning that these two individuals were in prison and possible deportation was being considered, citing international and national law”.

In defending the deportations, the Attorney General reasoned that there was never any intention by the government to go against the court order against the deportations.

“In several instances, officers were only aware of the declaration by the President that the two applicants were undesirable inhabitants and must have taken it that the applicants were a threat to national security.”

The laws of Botswana allow the President to deport anyone at any given time without having to explain his decision to anyone. Khama has come under heavy criticism for his clandestine deportations, with the most and latest criticism coming from the former President, Festus Mogae.

The deported refugees lawyer, Martin Dingake is of the view that all those who facilitated the deportations should be jailed for contempt of court. The ministries and departments involved are the Office of the President, Botswana Prisons Services, Botswana Police Services, Directorate of Intelligence and Security, Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, Defence and Security and the Attorney General amongst others.

The contempt of court judgement on the issue will be delivered on November 20, 2015.

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