- The government of Botswana government this week defended its decision to deport two asylum seekers from Namibia to the eastern Caprivi region earlier this month, saying that they had forfeited their refugee status. Botswana had denied this during one week, given the accusations that the refugee was illegally expelled.
According to news reports, until last week Botswana's authorities were denying that at least one of the Namibian refugees from the Caprivi region - Rodwell 'Fred' Katupisa Kauhano - had been deported from Botswana, where he spent six years in exile. Mr Kauhano and the other refugee, identified only as 'Charles' were living in the Dukwe refugee camp in central Botswana.
Tueloyanne Oliphant, the permanent secretary for political affairs in the Botswana presidential office, confirmed only Mr Kauhano's deportation and said the authorities had followed the correct procedures laid down in the UN convention on refugees. "Kauhano was a refugee in Botswana and had violated his conditions of stay by occasionally going back to his country of origin," Mr Oliphant said.
The UN convention compels countries to grant foreign nationals political asylum if they claim their lives are in danger and may face persecution in their native country. However, once a person voluntarily returns to his country of nationality, he forfeits his refugee status.
Mr Oliphant denied any knowledge of 'Charles', saying the only other Namibian refugee on record, who had been deported, was known as Cosmos Kachana Mabuku. "Mabuku was deported on 1 January 2005, after he indicated that he wanted to go back to his country," said Mr Oliphant.
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) told the UN media 'IRIN' this week that it had not been informed of Mr Kauhano's deportation. UNHCR's Botswana representative, Benny Otim, said his office had only come to know about Mr Kauhano's expulsion through the media. "We are currently awaiting clarification from the government, and there is nothing we can say until we get that," said Otim.
According to the Namibia-based rights organisation, National Society for Human Rights (NSHR), Mr Kauhano and 'Charles' were granted political asylum in Botswana in 1999, after being implicated in a plot to secede the Caprivi Strip from Namibia.
Several Caprivian residents are on trial in Namibia, facing charges of high treason for their alleged part in the disturbances that occurred in 1998/99. An NSHR representative earlier this month told afrol News that deportees were "likely to face political persecution, including prolonged detention or enforced disappearance in connection with the marathon high treason trial" against the alleged Caprivi plotters.
Mr Kauhano was among the first group of some 92 Caprivi refugees who fled Namibia to Botswana in 1998, following what the NSHR calls "human rights abuses by Namibian security forces" in the Caprivi region. On 2 August 1999, Caprivi Liberation Army guerrillas launched an attack on several government installations. This attack "led to even more widespread human rights violations in the region," according to NSHR.
There are now approximately 1,200 Namibian refugees from Caprivi in the Dukwe camp in Botswana. According to the NSHR, there have already been several forced repatriations from Botswana to Namibia "under mysterious circumstances" during the last few years.
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