Namibian refugees refusing to return home

Seventeen years ago, some Namibians fled to Botswana after their attempt to secede the Caprivi Strip failed and they have been hosted at the Dukwi Refugee Camp. From 1998, reasons for which they were granted refugee status were said to no longer be valid by both the governments of Botswana and Namibian. Since last year, about two thousand refugees took up the voluntary repatriation offered to them and they have since gone back to Namibia, but the remaining 900 have refused to budge, pointing out that they will only go back to Namibia as corpses.

Recently, the government of Botswana represented by the Minister of Defence, Justice and Security, Shaw Kgathi, hosted the Namibian Minister of Home Affairs and Immigration, Pendukeni Iivula-Ithani, and a representative of the High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). It was in this tripartite meeting that a unanimous decision was reached that the Namibian refugees should go back home and an ultimatum was reached for 31st of December 2015. This decision left the refugees fuming and accusing the three parties of making decisions that concern them without consulting and involving them.

“We have encouraged voluntary repatriation among the Namibian refugees, since then about 2000 have left, but 900 have remained behind in Dukwi. Hence, our efforts to convince them to take up this voluntary repatriation by having the tripartite meeting and coming to address them as a delegation from the three concerned parties. We believe it is time for the Namibians to go back home as our assessment and that of the UNHCR shows that reasons that brought you here have ceased to exist,” explained Kgathi. He told them that it was time they went back to their country and contribute to its development.

For their part, the refugees accused the three parties of making a decision to repatriate them to Namibia and declared Namibia safe for them in their absence. Speaking through a representative, Felix Kakula, the refugees argued that Namibia was not safe for them. Kakula indicated that since they were told not to take a decision as a group, and make the choice individually, then, “Our decision is that, we are not going back to Namibia, and we are saying instead of forcing us back there you should kill us first and then load us to Namibia. Do you think it has been easy for us to stay in a foreign country?” asked Kakula, who challenged the government of Namibia to face them and discuss their issue to finality. “Namibia is colonizing its people and our brothers and sisters are rotting in jail as we speak and some have been poisoned in prison. Recently about 28 were killed and you come here and tell us the reasons for us fleeing are no longer there, that’s not true,” fumed Kakula.

Minister Kgathi responded by warning the refugees that they only had up to the 31st of December 2015 to have left Botswana voluntarily, failing which their refugee status will be revoked and they will be treated as illegal immigrants. Minister Iivula-Ithani from Namibia also pleaded with the refugees to go back home. She promised that Namibia was safe for them and that the Namibian government is ready to take them in as its citizens and make necessary provisions for them in order for them to adapt back into their communities. She advised that they should take this serious and consider returning to Namibia before the agreed date.