UNHCR expresses concern about Namibians deported by Botswana
News Stories, 24 December 2003
GABORONE, Botswana, Dec 24 (UNHCR) – The UN refugee agency has urged the Botswana government to explain the recent deportation of eight Namibian asylum seekers to Namibia where they could be charged with high treason.
The eight Namibian nationals were removed from a detention centre for illegal immigrants in Francistown on December 10, after seeking asylum in Botswana. UNHCR was never advised of the deportation.
When Botswana's Refugee Advisory Committee met in Francistown on December 19 to interview a number of asylum seekers, including the eight Namibians, it turned out that they had been deported. Neither UNHCR officials nor the Committee were given a chance to look into the cases.
UNHCR denounced the move as a violation of the "non-refoulement" policy that prohibits the forced return of asylum seekers to areas where they could face danger – a cornerstone of international refugee protection.
"We cannot accept that these asylum seekers were deported without a chance to explain their case," said Benny Otim, UNHCR's representative in Botswana.
Botswana authorities regard the men as illegal migrants who lost their claim to asylum after allegedly going back to visit Namibia while seeking asylum in Botswana. Human rights groups say that some of the individuals had indeed gone back to Namibia but were forced to flee again because of rising tensions in north-eastern Namibia's Caprivi Strip.
According to human rights groups, the eight deported men were reportedly seen on December 15 shackled and under heavy guard at a local court in the Caprivi Strip town of Katima Mulilo (Ngwaze), near the border with Zambia. They have since allegedly been transferred to a maximum-security prison in Grootfontein in northern Namibia. UNHCR's Namibia office is watching the case closely.