- Wants them returned to war-torn countries
- Throws refugees in jail
- Children denied education
- An economic burden to Botswana?
- 1.3 million Congolese displaced- UN
Despite Democratic Republic of Congo(DRC) being engulfed in widespread and ongoing militia activities, unrest and violence fueled by ethnic and political conflict affecting many areas leading to mass displacements, the Botswana government has rejected Congolese asylum seekers and want them to go back to their war-torn country.
According to the latest information from the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) since 2015 the number of people displaced internally at DRC has more than doubled and now stands at 3.9 million people – some 428,000 of these having been displaced in the past three months alone. The UNHCR also reported an influx of asylum seekers from DRC to Botswana’s northern neighbours, Zambia. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) in its 2017 report states that Sub-Saharan Africa overtook the Middle East as the region most affected, with almost one million new displacements in the Democratic Republic of Congo as a result of violent clashes in the provinces of North Kivu, South Kivu and Kasai.
Thousands of people have been killed and more than one-million forced to flee their homes since the start of an insurrection nearly a year ago by the Kamuina Nsapu militia, which is demanding the withdrawal of military forces from the area. The insurgency poses the most serious threat yet to the rule of Congo’s President Joseph Kabila, whose refusal to step down at the end of his constitutional mandate last December was followed by a wave of killings and lawlessness across the vast central African nation, reports indicate.
However, the Botswana government rejects new asylum seekers including those from the DRC condemning and incarcerating them as illegal immigrants at the Francistown Centre for Illegal Immigrants(FCII). Some of those who have made it into the IDMC and UNHCR displacements statistics are also part of an intense legal battle between 165 rejected asylum seekers against the government of Botswana. The rejected asylum seekers are disputing their lengthy imprisonment at FCII which was found illegal by lower courts. The lower court granted the asylum seekers residence inside the Dukwi Camp. Their stay at Dukwi after having their asylum seekers application rejected is currently being appealed by the Botswana government who wants them removed from the country.
Sources close to the case said some of the rejected DRC refugees are with their children while some are still stuck at FCII. In an interview with The Botswana Gazette UNHCR Senior Regional External Relations Officer Markku Aikomus confirmed that the asylum seekers who were rejected by Botswana are “mainly” from the DRC where there are political conflicts and violence. He however did not dwell much on Botswana’s response to DRC displacement or internal wars nor explain his view on the rejection of DRC asylum seekers. Aikomus however condemned Botswana’s “illegal” policy of detaining asylum seekers. “UNHCR was particularly concerned with families being separated in the course of the detention, and children being denied access to education. The detention of asylum-seekers and refugees has serious and lasting effects on individuals and families,” said UNHCR in an interview last week. Save the Children recently released a report documenting almost unbelievable trauma among refugee children. Hundreds of thousands of these children have known nothing but war, death, dispossession and loss.
It is not clear how the secretive Refugee Advisory Committee or the Ministry of Defence, Justice and Security arrived at a decision to reject refugee application from DRC. However, the minister has the right to reject asylum seekers’ application for refuge and that decision can only be reviewed but not appealed. Also, the Refugee (Recognition and Control) Act of 1969 gives refugee status exclusively to “political prisoners” while it has reservation on taking the whole of the 1951 Refugee Convention which is the key international legal document that forms the basis of refugee protection. The 1951 Refugee Convention, which was ratified by 145 State parties including Botswana, defines a refugee as “someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.”
It recommends that governments continue to receive refugees in their territories and that they act in concert in a true spirit of international cooperation in order that these refugees may find asylum and the possibility of resettlement. Only war criminals are declared as unfit for refugee status by the Convention. The 1969 OAU Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa states that a “refugee” shall mean every person who, owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country, or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to
While thousands of Congolese asylum seekers are in limbo not knowing which country to flee to for refuge, some are willing to come to Botswana but they get rejected, the Botswana government is still dealing with the legal technicalities of “what is a refugee” or “an illegal immigrant.” Court documents of the ongoing case of asylum seekers versus Botswana government seen by this publication suggests that despite DRC having internal wars, Botswana is working very hard to repatriate Congolese asylum seekers. Court papers show that Botswana officials are working with their Congolese counterparts to repatriate rejected DRC asylum seekers but the process is delaying. Botswana is defending herself using technicalities saying that some asylum seekers lied about the country of origin saying they are from DRC only to apologize later stating that they are from Burundi and Tanzania where there are no wars. Botswana government also is attempting to justify its position of detaining asylum seekers saying the fact that they failed application for refuge means they are automatically “illegal immigrants.”
At the recent 68th Session of the UNHCR Executive Committee Permanent Secretary the Ministry of Defence Segakweng Tsiane appealed for a “long term solution regarding the situation of refugees
from the DRC and Somalia who constitute the highest numbers after Namibia and Zimbabwe.” DRC refugees were mentioned despite the country having internal wars. Tsiane also complained that by UNHCR cutting down operations, it will not help Botswana’s efforts of protecting refugees but thanks the UN organ for its ‘technical assistance’. UNHCR for its part also stated in an interview that it was assisting Botswana with all the needed support.
There have been reports in the past that Botswana finds protection of refugees politically and economically burdensome. Unlike most countries, Botswana has a low volume of refugee population, harboring almost less than 4000 refugees at the Dukwi Camp. UNHCR reports that over the past two decades, the global population of forcibly displaced people has grown substantially from 33.9 million in 1997 to 65.6 million in 2016, and it remains at a record high. The growth was concentrated between 2012 and 2015, driven mainly by the Syrian conflict along with other conflicts in the region such as in Iraq and Yemen, as well as in sub-Saharan Africa including Burundi, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, and Sudan.
Efforts to contact the Ministry of Defence, Justice and Security were futile as our questionnaire was not responded to before press time. Minister Shaw Kgathi did not respond to messages and the ministry spokesperson Samma Tabudi said she was not in the office but never responded to our inquiry before press time. Right of reply will be published as soon as the ministry avails it to this publication.
How did DRC refugee crisis begin?
The crisis began August 2016 when tribal chieftain, known as Kamwina Nsapu, called for an insurgency in the Kasai region after the Congolese government refused to recognize his authority in his province. Nsapu demanded that his followers expel all Congolese security forces from the region. After months of tensions, security forces killed Kamwina Nsapu in an August 2016 raid; his followers pledged to avenge his death and stepped up their attacks on government institutions, the report says.
More than 1.3 million people have been displaced by the violence, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council report. In May, some 8,000 people per day were forced to leave their homes; many of the children have been recruited into armed groups. But 30,000 Congolese have also fled into Angola in the past two months. The U.N. expects that figure to rise to 50,000 people by the end of the year. Besides the displacement, the Council also found that more than one in 10 schools in Kasai Central had been closed due to the fighting.