African Press Association

Caged Congolese seek justice in Botswana

Dukwi Refugee Camp

from KATLEGO SIBANDA in Gaborone, Botswana
GABORONE, (CAJ News) – CONGOLESE nationals seeking asylum in Botswana intend taking legal action against the host country to secure the release of over 450 compatriots, including children, illegally detained as well as the violations of their rights in the South African country.

Amid the confusion around the future of the Dukwi Refugee Camp, located in the eastern region, 180km outside the second capital of Francistown, the asylum seekers from Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are held at the Francistown Centre for Illegal Immigrants, which houses other nationalities either waiting determination of refugee status or deportation to countries of origin.

The Centre is a transit point while the Refugee Advisory Committee deals with issues pertaining to an applicant’s stay in the country.

It is alleged some asylum seekers from the Central African country have been kept for more two years, which way exceeds the constitutional time frame.

The country’s Refugee and Control Act instruct asylum seekers should not be under arrest for a period exceeding 28 days.

Samuel Byamungu Nondo, Congolese Community Leadership Chairman, said the majority of the asylum seekers were kept under inhuman conditions and a torturous atmosphere at the Francistown Centre for Illegal Immigrants.

A majority are children.

Nondo’s records indicate that of the detained Congolese group, there are 262 children, 143 women and 45 men.

An attempt by the Congolese inmates to voice against the alleged unlawful detention has attracted the wrath of Botswana security forces.

They are infamous over allegations of ill-treating foreign nationals.

“They brutally beat and tortured our people to the point that some of them are now disabled and others are traumatised,” said Nondo adding that one of the torture victims is now disabled.

He said the authorities from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and United Sates immigration department and the country’s Centre for Human Right organisation (Ditswanelo) have been alerted about the incident but there was no response.

Nondo says they have since exhausted all diplomatic channels to resolve the issues hence they have hired a private attorney, Morgan Moseki, in their quest for justice.

The Congolese community is clutching to a ray of hope following the conclusion of consultations where their grievances were noted.

Moseki says an application asking government to release and relocate the detainees to Dukwi Refugee Camp is underway.

“Most of those people (asylum seekers) have been there since June 2014,” said Moseki.

He noted the government argued it had rejected some applications for refuge.

It is thus of concern the rejected applicants are still kept at the centre for illegal immigrants.

“This is pathetic. They have to be released and be relocated or government should find a place where to house them,” Moseki said.

“In accordance with the law we cannot send them back (to DRC). So, we have to find a durable solution for them. The most hurting part is that there are children there.”

The lawyer said the detained children are being denied a basic right to education.

There are also indications the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) will close the Dukwi refugee camp in June.

UNHCR has been one of the agencies providing support to the camp in the form of food rations and other basic necessities.

Government however has expressed ignorance at such plans.

“This is false, unfounded, misleading and in our view meant to cause unnecessary confusion and disorder in the public domain,” said Shaw Kgathi, the Defence, Justice and Security Minister.

He believes voluntary repatriation could be the solution.

Recently 15 refugees from Zimbabwe and Namibia applied for voluntary repatriation from Botswana despite fleeing alleged persecution in the countries. Eight Namibians and seven Zimbabweans have opted for voluntary repatriation between January and February.

“We believe, this is the most durable solution,” said Kgathi.

The repatriation is facilitated in collaboration with UNHCR and International Organisation for Migration.

“This has built positivity to the repatriation process. I have no doubt that many more will come forward, as we believe there is no place better than home for any internationally displaced person,” said Kgathi.

Meanwhile government is working on amending the Refugee (Recognition and Control) Act to improve the management of refugees and to align it to other domestic and international statutes and obligations, balanced with the emerging global security challenges.

Botswana hosts about 3 000 refugees from 14 countries across Africa.

Most refugees are from Namibia (919), Zimbabwe (688) and Somalia (316).

In 2013, Botswana announced the Declaration of the Cessation of refugee status with Angolan refugees.

More than 350 of the 450 Angolans in Botswana registered for voluntary repatriation.

Botswana has been in collaboration UNHCR and other relevant partners to proactively pursue all feasible measures to facilitate the safe repatriation of affected Angolan refugees.

Angola was the scene of Africa’s longest and bloodiest civil conflict that claimed over 500 000 lives between 1975 and 2002.

Most refugees in Botswana are at Dukwi, established by the Lutheran World Federation in 1978 to cope with a massive influx of refugees from then-Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).

At its peak, the camp hosted more than 45 000 people, including those fleeing the apartheid regime in South Africa.

There were also refugees from Namibia and Angola, the scene of Africa’s longest and bloodiest civil conflict after the Portuguese left in 1975.

– CAJ News