GABORONE. – Botswana’s authorities should not force any of the Caprivi refugees to return to their home country Namibia if a real risk remains that they would face persecution or other serious human rights violations, Amnesty International has said.
More than 900 refugees, including at least 400 children who have never lived in Namibia, have been left in limbo after they were told by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) that they would no longer receive services such as food rations and access to medical treatment at the Dukwi Refugee Camp, where they have been living for almost two decades.
The deadline for their voluntary repatriation expired Wednesday.
“These men, women, and children should not be forced to return home if their personal safety cannot be guaranteed,” said Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Southern Africa.
“A lot is at stake here, if the government of Botswana forces people to return to Namibia where they may face human rights violations, it will be breaching its international and national obligations under the law.”
This is not the first time Botswana has tried to repatriate refugees. In 2015, the Botswana government announced that it had revoked the refugee status of Namibians.
Later in January 2016, the Botswana High Court ruled that Namibian refugees should not be repatriated until a legal case brought against the revocation order had been decided.
This judgement was upheld on appeal in March 2016 on the grounds that the Ministry of Defence, Justice, and Security had an obligation to ensure the safe return of the applicants.
Amnesty International visited Botswana last month and spoke to some of the refugees. They expressed fear and anxiety after the government took away their refugee status without any support if they choose to repatriate to Namibia. The refugees told the organisation that the situation leaves them in a precarious position.
Some of the people have expressed their fears about their future in Botswana. One refugee, who arrived in the country in 1998 told Amnesty International that: “Now the situation is terrifying. We don’t know what will happen to us. Our kids won’t be able to go to school. 99 percent of the children are born here, they are Batswana by birth.” – African News Agency (ANA)