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Namibian Refugees Refuse to Leave Botswana

Botswana and Namibia
Botswana and Namibia

More than 800 Namibian refugees in Botswana have vowed to stay put despite a court ruling saying they must return to their country, 20 years after fleeing following a secessionist uprising.

Felix Kalula and hundreds of other Namibian refugees fled to Botswana in 1999, after violent clashes with Namibian government forces broke out over the disputed Caprivi strip, which wanted to secede from the rest of the country.

The Namibian and Botswana governments say it is safe for the refugees to return home, and the migrants have until Aug. 31 to leave. But Kalula says the issues that made them flee have not been resolved.

"Some of our colleagues are still in prison since 1999, and many of them died in prison," he said, adding that refugees have been asking for dialogue with the Namibian government, but the opportunity has not been afforded.

Kalula was a member of the secessionist party, the United Democratic Party, which remains banned in Namibia as the Caprivi residents were willing to use force to gain independence.

FILE - Two bodies of rebel insurgents lie in a street after sporadic gunfire in the Caprivi strip, Namibia, Aug. 3, 1999.
FILE - Two bodies of rebel insurgents lie in a street after sporadic gunfire in the Caprivi strip, Namibia, Aug. 3, 1999.

He says they are not prepared to return, and the Botswana government will have to forcibly remove them.

"We have informed the government of Botswana that we are not going to surrender through voluntary repatriation back to Caprivi, or Namibia as they call it, but we would rather be deported," he said.

Another Namibian refugee, John Shamdo, agrees the situation back home remains unsafe.

"We live in fear that once we are repatriated back home, we shall be killed because of our political beliefs," Shamdo said.

There should be a referendum to resolve the Caprivi strip dispute, he added, urging the international community to intervene.

Annette Toyano has been living at the Dukwi Refugee Camp in Botswana since 1998, and dreads going back home.

"Now we are saying, if it is to die, we are going to die. We are not going to opt for repatriation to go back home, because at home, it is not safe," she said.

Rights group Amnesty International has urged the Botswana government not to repatriate the refugees, and instead is calling for dialogue.

Botswana's President Mokgweetsi Masisi recently told his Namibian counterpart, Hage Geingob, that Botswana revoked the refugees' status, as the country deemed it fit for their return.