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Zimbabwe Refugees Lose Fight to Remain in Botswana

FILE - In this Sept. 16, 2008 file photo, Zimbabweans queue at Home Affairs offices in Musina, South Africa, close to the Zimbabwean border, to seek refugee status.

About 60 Zimbabwean refugees have lost their battle to remain in neighboring Botswana. The host government rejected their appeal against repatriation. The refugees are reluctant to return to Zimbabwe, citing political persecution.

Most of the refugees fled to Botswana following the often-violent 2008 presidential election in Zimbabwe.

Some opposition supporters were killed during that campaign, while others were beaten and left homeless.

Botswana granted asylum to the fleeing opposition supporters a decade ago. However, in 2017, the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR), in collaboration with the two governments, deemed the situation in Zimbabwe safe for the refugees' return.

Some of the 700 Zimbabwean refugees were repatriated in December, with at least 367 expected to return this month.

But some had requested to remain in Botswana or be repatriated to a third country.

Standard Weza says he cannot return home because he fears for his life.

"They might claim that Zimbabwe has improved politically whatsoever, but where we come from, where we have been active doing these things [politics], where we were tortured, there is nothing that has improved. We do communicate with the UNHCR office in Harare and the government, but they do not go to the rural or urban centers, where we come from," he said.

Opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) activist Wasu Chibi is equally concerned about his safety once he returns home.

He does not trust Zimbabwe's long-ruling ZANU-PF party.

"What we are saying is not a mystery but reality," he said. "Those people who know ZANU-PF since 1980, they will believe what I am saying. ZANU-PF has made a lot of people disappear, ZANU-PF has killed a lot of people, so we are not an exception to that. Some of us are likely to face treason charges."

Zimbabwe's ambassador to Botswana, Batiraishe Mukonoweshuro, argues there is no reason for fear.

"Yes, there are a lot of misconceptions when people are in Dukwi [refugee camp] because they have not been home for a long time," he said. "There are fears that I have not been home for 10 years, will I be accepted back? Will I find people there? Maybe we will be incarcerated. Those with their crimes, feared that may be the law will immediately take its course."

In rejecting the refugees' request to remain at the Dukwi Refugee Camp, the Botswana government said there was no longer a need for continued international protection for the migrants.