Namibian refugees in Dukwi on Wednesday managed to get a court interdict preventing the government of Botswana from declaring them as illegal immigrants and subsequently deporting them to Namibia.
The group reached out to the courts in Botswana as they continue their defiance to return to Namibia without assurance that none of them will face arrest upon return.
The Namibian High Commission in Botswana yesterday indicated that only 40 of the more than 700 refugees that are in Dukwi were repatriated on Wednesday when the deadline to be voluntarily repatriated lapsed.
The matter is currently being argued in the Lobatse High Court.
Represented by defence lawyer Martin Dingake, the group maintain that returning to Namibia poses a risk to their freedom.
The interdict, which was granted on deadline day, means Botswana has to wait for the court process to take its course before it can take any action against the refugees who refuse to return to Namibia.
Namibia’s High Commissioner to Botswana Mbapeua Muvangua said over 700 refugees have not registered to be repatriated.
He cautioned that those who refuse to register for repatriation risk being sent to Botswana’s Center for Illegal Immigrants.
‘We tried our best’
With the absence of war in Namibia and assurance from the Namibian government that returning refugees will not be arrested, Botswana took a decision to set a cut-off date for the refugees at Dukwi.
Minister of Information and Communication Technology Stanley Simataa who led a high level government team to Dukwi last month told The Patriot during an interview this week that Namibia did whatever it could to engage the refugees to return, even going as far as reiterating that there are no arrests lined up.
Namibia has been castigated by affected parties for allegedly being insensitive towards the refugees as well as sending mixed signals on the future of the refugees once they return to Namibia.
Despite the criticism directed at it, the Namibian government says its conscious is clear because “we did our part to convince our brothers and sisters to return home until the very last moment.
Many of them do not have any cases to answer to, but of course if they return and there are those who want to continue with the plan to secede Zambezi, of course those ones will be dealt with by the law,” he said during an interview this week.
After the visit, Simataa said: “It was clear to see that there is undue pressure exerted upon some group members. What is constraining some of them is the pressure of others. We informed them that they need to take individual decisions, but I can tell you that there is a high degree of intimidation, particularly the men feeding wrong information to others. We know there are those with wrong political ambitions, they are aware that when the majority of the people return to Namibia they will be isolated hence they doing all they can to hang onto the people there to justify their political courses that they have conceived,” Simataa cautioned.
He added: “We urged those who were there at the time of our visit to make these decisions as individuals and resist taking decisions based on the agenda of others.”
Simataa indicated that over 3000 refugees were successfully and voluntarily repatriated from Dukwi.
Some of the refugees had been living in Botswana for some 20 years. Some of the returnees were born in Botswana and had never been to Namibia before.
UNHCR normally works with host governments to consider local integration for refugees who are unable to return home or those unwilling to do so, because they have strong ties to their countries of asylum.
UNHCR’s official statistics indicate that by September 2015, there were 938 Namibian refugees in Botswana.
Repatriations involving refugees are inherently complex, this is so because it bears the weight of expectations at a time when the curtain has not been fully drawn on the past, at least on the part of those who must be repatriated.
In a last ditch effort last month, the Namibian government sent a team of top officials to engage the group in an attempt to convince the them to return home before the deadline lapses, but clearly not everyone heeded that call.
1999 remains part of Caprivi Region(now Zambezi) ugly history, a plot to secede the strip from Namibia was foiled and group of identified conspirators under the command of self-exiled Mishake Muyongo were arrested while others fled into Botswana to avoid arrest.
Muyongo has fled the time and has never stepped foot in Namibia ever since.
With the help of the Namibian Police and public tip-offs, the operation to secede Caprivi was unmasked and the resultant court case, which lasted over 15 years, lifted the lid on other crimes and plotting that were hidden from public view.
Muvangua this week said the way forward for the refugees who refused to return to Namibia depends on what the government of Botswana decides.
“They[refugees] are in a foreign territory therefore it is not up to us to decide what happens next. But of course as a government, we stand ready to welcome anyone who wants to come home,” he said.
Yet, despite all that is known today, it is unclear whether the full extent of the foiled plot will be known.
Botswana’s government maintained that the refugees at Dukwi can no longer use the reasons they had used to flee Namibia as valid reasons anymore to stay on in Botswana, emphasising that refugees flee their country because of prosecution or war.
The refugees aerlier this year said, “we did not plan that we should be called refugees, neither did we choose voluntarily when we were running into Botswana around 1998 to 2000. We were just running with our lives in bare hands because the political situation was not warranting for all of us to stay in the Caprivi Strip which is forcefully occupied by Namibia.”
The group was given political asylum with its leaders, Mishake Muyongo, His Highness Chief Bebi Mamili, three councillors, the Late John Mabuku, the late Francis Sizimbo and Mr. Walubita and many others after the failed seccession attempt.