250 asylum seekers rejected by Botswana flee to Zimbabwe

Chakalisa Dube

FRANCISTOWN: Of the 359 asylum seekers who were rejected by Botswana, 260 have reportedly fled to Zimbabwe where they are now housed at Tongogara refugee camp in Chipinge.

Last month, the Botswana government through the Court of Appeal (CoA) successfully overturned a High Court decision that had ordered the release of 164 rejected asylum seekers (the number goes to 359 inclusive of their dependants) who were incarcerated at the Francistown Centre for Illegal Immigrants (FCII).

Following the High Court ruling, the rejected asylum seekers returned to the Dukwi refugee camp.

According to human rights lawyer, Morgan Moseki, who represented the rejected asylum seekers, some of them have fled to South Africa and Namibia.

The rejected asylum seekers are originally from Zimbabwe, Nambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, amongst others. Only one of the 359 has decided to remain in Botswana while still looking for a host country.

Moseki said the remaining one hails from Zimbabwe, but was not willing to go to any of the three countries. “I am also assisting him to get a country that can receive him.” 

“On Friday, government officials went to Dukwi refugee camp and told the asylum seekers affected by the Court of Appeal judgement that the government has decided to send them to FCII. Their removal from the refugee camp was to start at 10am on December 2.”

“Faced with the prospects of returning to prison, they elected on their own to seek for any country willing to take them. The government has no business in keeping rejected asylum seekers in prison.” Moseki said that as obliged by law, the government must have informed the rejected asylum seekers that they have the right to leave for any country willing to take them. He said that such process was not done.

“I had also advised my clients that they were entitled to seek passage from the government of Botswana to countries willing to take them. I am told the government rejected the request,” Moseki said.

On Wednesday, the deputy permanent secretary in the Ministry of Defence, Justice and Security, Dimpho Mogami confirmed that on Friday the government met the rejected asylum seekers and told them to prepare for their removal (from the refugee camp). She confirmed that the removal of the rejected asylum seekers was to start on Saturday. Mogami also heads the Refugee Advisory Committee, which is under the defence ministry.

She added that she was yet to be made aware that the asylum seekers have left the country. Mogami denied that the government refused to grant the asylum seekers passage while seeking countries that were willing to take them. 

“The refugees made several demands during the Friday meeting and I told them that we will forward them (demands) to the relevant authorities,” she said.

At the Court of Appeal the government maintained that it had the right to detain foreigners if their asylum applications had been rejected. However, Moseki  countered that the perpetual incarceration of the rejected asylum seekers was unlawful.

Moseki argued that the government wanted to indefinitely keep the applicants in custody. The asylum seekers and their young children have languished at the FCII since 2015 contrary to the law that states that keeping them at the FCII for more than 28 days is unlawful.

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