Namibia: First voluntary repatriation from Botswana to Caprivi region since 2002

Briefing Notes, 15 April 2005

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 15 April 2005, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Today, 12 refugees left on an early morning convoy to repatriate from Dukwi refugee camp in north-eastern Botswana to Katima Mulilo in Namibia's Caprivi region an area of Namibian territory wedged between Botswana, Zambia and Angola. This will be the first voluntary repatriation to the region from Botswana since 2002. The 450-km journey is expected to take up to seven hours.

In March, the Namibian government cleared 29 refugees to return, but only 12 of the refugees were ready to depart within the short time frame. Many of them are waiting for payment of outstanding wages, and others have delayed for personal reasons including getting married or fitting in with the school year, and four changed their minds about returning.

However, today's first voluntary convoy appears to have triggered a desire to return within the Namibian community in Dukwi. Since the date of the return convoy was announced in the camp last week, 56 more refugees have signed up for the next repatriation movement. There are currently 1,200 Namibian refugees registered in Dukwi. They are part of a group of 2,400 refugees who had fled Namibia in late 1998 during a wave of violence caused by secessionist fighting in the Caprivi region, on the border with Angola.

The refugees are returning under the terms of an agreement reached in 2002 between Namibia, Botswana and UNHCR which incorporates the internationally-recognised principles of refugee protection, including the establishment of a commission to promote repatriation, cross-border visits by refugee representatives, simplification of border procedures and access to returnees by UNHCR.