“We’re being forced out!” claim refugees
After a messy repatriation exercise involving Namibian refugees back in September, the government of Botswana finds herself dealing with another possible hot potato.
This time the Ministry of Defence, Justice and Security has turned up the heat on 526 Zimbabwean refugees at Dukwi Camp.
Last year the government forcibly repatriated over 1, 000 Caprivians to Namibia after the Court of Appeal gave the green light for their removal.
The exercise, which attracted the attention of world media, was not without teething problems as some Namibians remain incarcerated at the Francistown Centre for Illegal Immigrants.
Having refused to leave, self-appointed Caprivian spokesperson Felix Kakula as well as Gaspa Machana, Nervous Lutambo, Richard Mosupali and Mikini Smith are still languishing at the centre after their refugee statuses were revoked.
Similarly, the Ministry is facing resistance from some Zimbabwean refugees, most of them members of Zimbabwe’s Movement for Democratic Change who fled political persecution during the 2008 violent presidential election.
The Voice has been reliably informed that refugees who were given a deadline of 31 December 2019 to register for voluntary repatriation are now being threatened into signing or face forcible removal.
“They always remind us of what happened to the Namibians, and that we’ll be dragged out of the camp screaming and kicking,” said a concerned refugee who pleaded anonymity.
“Listen, we all know how this will end. We remember that Namibian kids were dragged out of classrooms as they sat for their exams. But for some of us, there’s no other option but to hold off with hope that the Botswana government will have a change of heart,” they added.
The source further claimed the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) is the one pushing for this ‘ill-timed’ repatriation.
“Chief of Mission Arvin Gupta is leading this and at times I feel he’s defying even the government because he doesn’t want to listen or wait until the concerned refugees are at least given a better package,” said the worried youth, who has called Botswana home for the last 12 years.
The source further maintained that after they told Gupta conditions in Zimbabwe are not yet conducive for their safe return, the UNHCR then offered them food rations for three months, transport to the border and US$300 (P3, 000) each.
“It is not enough, but some had to take it because we were threatened with being declared illegal immigrants. Most of those who left will be back here as illegal immigrants. For most of us there is nothing left in Zim, no home, no family and no hope!” they concluded desperately.
Responding to a questionnaire from The Voice, Secretary for Safety and Security-Ministry of Defence, Justice and Security, Pearl Ramokoka explained that the repatriation exercise is being facilitated by the Botswana government and UNHCR.
“So far it is proceeding smoothly,” she insisted.
Ramoroka said out of a total of 526 Zimbabwean refugees who were accommodated in Dukwi, 367 have registered for voluntary repatriation, of which 191 have already been repatriated, with 176 awaiting their turn.
“The ongoing repatriation exercise is for those who have registered for voluntary repatriation. Those who do not register will be managed under applicable Immigration laws and bilateral discussions with the government of Zimbabwe,” responded Ramoroka.