General

Khama declares refugees prohibited immigrants

By: Khonani Ontebetse

President Ian Khama has declared two Ugandan refugees prohibited immigrants, an investigation by The Telegraph showed here on Monday.

Security insiders said that two Ugandans, Timothy Yamin and Musa Mohammed have been served with papers signed by President Khama declaring them prohibited immigrants.

Information from security insiders was this week corroborated by a savingram from the First Offenders officer in charge which states that two men “who have been declared Prohibited Immigrants by the President of Botswana His Excellency Sir Seretse Khama Ian Khama are not allowed to be visited by anyone including their legal representatives.”

The Telegraph has turned up information indicating that the two men are currently incarcerated at the first offenders prison in Gaborone awaiting deportation.

In an interview last week, the Secretary of Defence in the Ministry of Defence, Justice and Security, Augustine Makgonatsotlhe told this publication that his ministry has since revoked the refugee status of the two men.

“Those two Ugandans are no longer refugees. Their refugee status was reviewed a few months back. It was found that they have not been abiding by conditions of their refugee status,” said Makgonatsotlhe without elaborating what those conditions entail.

He explained that on the advice of the Refugee Advisory Committee, the Minister of Defence, Justice and Security Shaw Kgathi decided to serve the two Ugandans with revocation letters.

When pressed to confirm or deny reports that the two men have been declared prohibited immigrants and are awaiting deportation to Uganda, Makgonatsotlhe said; “I cannot say where they are now. What I only know is that we have revoked their refugee status.”

Botswana Prisons Service spokesperson Senior Superintendent Wamorena Ramolefhe confirmed that the two men are being held at one of their prison facilities. Authorities would not provide specifics on when the two men would be deported.

Director of Immigration Mabuse Pule had not responded to this publication’s queries sent a week ago.

Responding to The Telegraph queries, Senior Regional External Relations Officer (United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) Regional Office for Southern Africa) Tina Ghelli said “We cannot comment on individual cases to the media in order to respect confidentiality. Persons with refugee status should not be deported to their home countries.”

Asked if her office was aware that the two men had their refugee status revoked, Ghelli said “I suggest you contact their lawyers. There was a court order in March to reinstate their refugee status and as far as we are aware it has not been revoked again.”

Early this year District Commissioner Cordelliah Mpape wrote to the two refugees instructing them to appear before the Refugee Advisory Committee. She stated in a letter dated 15 April 2015 that the Committee’s mandate is to summon before it any person in respect of whom an inquiry is to be held.

This was after the two men had successfully challenged a decision by the government to withdraw their refugee status and deport them to Uganda. According to a High Court order issued by Justice Lakhinder Walia at the time, the Government was ordered to release the duo to Dukwi Camp and thereby reverse its decision to revoke their refugee status.

But following the decision of the High Court, the government did not give up as it pursued other legal manoeuvres to have the two men’s refugees’ status revoked and ultimately deported to Uganda.

There are fears that should the two men be deported to their home country their lives could be at risk.

While The Telegraph was unable to established why the refugee status of the two men was nullified resulting in them being served with papers declaring them prohibited immigrants, they have been protesting against what they term callous living conditions that they are subjected to by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in the country and Botswana Government.

The two refugees claimed that despite the UNHCR failure to help them with food and clothing they even went to block their request to resettle in their country of choice where they will be able to work for themselves.

They had always demanded among others that they be granted citizenship or resettled to another country. The refugees spoke out against appallingly living conditions at Dukwi refugee camp where they are “kept like prisoners without work and travel rights.”

They claim receive inadequate food rations and that they have not been provided with clothing for more than ten years. Last year they launched a hunger strike outside the United Nations offices in Gaborone.

But Ghelli said that as is the case in many countries, an encampment policy is in place in Botswana. Botswana signed the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees with reservations to the articles on the right to work and freedom of movement.

“As we do in all countries, UNHCR advocates for governments to be flexible regarding this policy so that refugees do not have to be entirely dependent on aid. UNHCR provides food rations on a monthly basis to all refugees in Dukwi,” she explained. She added that the ration provided in Botswana provides is slightly higher than the SPHERE standard of 2100 kilocalories per person per day. (The Sphere standard was established be humanitarian agencies, including UN and NGOs).

“The current food ration per person provided on a monthly basis by UNHCR is: 12.5 kilograms of maize meal 1.5 kilograms of beans 750 milliliters of vegetable oil 500 grams of salt

200 grams 1 packet of soup 1 kilogram of one packet of sugar, 83 Kg – CSB 750 gm – soap

4ltrs – kerosene two packs of sanitary pads (10 pieces) per female with reproductive age,” said Ghelli.

She said some households have backyard gardens to supplement their diet with vegetables. In addition, Dukwi refugee camp residents also benefit from the national Vulnerable Group Feeding Program, which provides monthly food supplements to children aged 6-59 months at health facilities.