World Refugee Survey 2009: Botswana
Botswana hosted approximately 23,100 refugees and asylum seekers in 2008, including some 20,000 Zimbabweans. About 1,100 Namibian refugees still reside in Botswana of the original 3,000 who fled secessionist struggle in the Caprivi Strip of Namibia in the late 1990s.
2008 Events Summary
There were no reports of refoulement during 2008. At year’s end, Botswana was holding 63 asylum seekers in detention as it decided their asylum claims. At the request of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Botswana released 27 asylum seekers from detention during the year, including 20 minors, allowing them to remain in Dukwi refugee camp while it decided their claims.
In July, Botswana’s foreign minister appealed to the international community for assistance in dealing with the sudden influx of Zimbabweans. After declaring victory in the Zimbabwean presidential election, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai sought temporary refuge in Botswana.
According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), as of June, Botswana had deported an average of 4,000 Zimbabweans a month. Prior to June, Botswana granted refugee status to about 308 Zimbabwean asylum seekers at the Dukwi Refugee Camp and the refugee advisory committee at the Francistown Centre for Illegal Immigrants assessed about 90 more in the first week of that month.
In July, the Center for Illegal Immigrants in Francistown assessed about 215 Zimbabwean political asylum seekers who arrived after the June presidential runn-off election in Zimbabwe. After the election, Zimbabweans came in large numbers but by mid-July, three to four Zimbabweans arrived daily.
Zimbabweans often faced xenophobia and discrimination in Botswana. In May, the IOM opened a reception site near the in Zimbabwe near the Botswana border to assist migrants deported from Botswana. The site provided food, transportation, and information on safe migration. In 2007, the Government was in the process of building an electric fence along the border with Zimbabwe, allegedly to prevent the spread of livestock diseases, but also to prevent Zimbabweans from crossing over.
Law and Policy
Botswana is party to the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (1951 Convention) and its 1967 Protocol, as well as the 1969 OAU Convention governing Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa. It maintains reservations to Articles 7, 12(1), 17, 26, 31 and 34 of the 1951 Convention.
The 1967 Refugees (Recognition and Control) Act requires asylum seekers to state their claims to the Refugee Advisory Committee (RAC), which interviews them and makes a recommendation on their claim to minister in charge of immigration, who makes the final decision on the asylum claim. UNHCR acts as an adviser to the RAC. The law allows for appeals of the minister’s decisions, but there is no formal procedure for them and they are handled on an ad hoc basis.
Under normal circumstances, those who did not qualify for refugee status were detained at the Center for Illegal Immigrants to await arrangements for repatriation to their respective countries. The Government said that it would respect the assessments of UNHCR and the RAC.
Detention/Access to Courts
The Botswana government detains all refugee and asylum seekers alongside illegal immigrants while determining their status. UNHCR successfully requested the release of some vulnerable individuals directly into the camps. The Government also permits high profile asylum seekers and those in danger in detention to reside outside of detention facilities while awaiting refugee status determination. UNHCR has full access to detainees, as do other visitors who give advance notice.
Asylum seekers could not challenge their detention in court. The Government does not provide any legal aid, but UNHCR works with the University of Botswana to provide legal advice for asylum seeekers.
All refugees and asylum seekers are entered into a database and refugees receive identity cards that are widely accepted in Botswana. If the Government allows asylum seekers to live outside Dukwi camp, it provides them with a letter of identification.
Freedom of Movement and Residence
The authorities transfers those who qualified for refugee status to Dukwi refugee camp, located near the Botswana-Namibia border. To leave the camp, refugees must seek permission from the settlement commandant, and to leave for employment they must present work and residence permits. During 2008, the Government slowed issuance of work permits and expressed the intent to restrict refugees to the camp in 2009.
The Directorate of Intelligence and Security Service (DISS) processes Convention Travel Documents (CTDs) for refugees. UNHCR refers applications to them and then issues the documents after DISS completes a security screening.
Right to Earn a Livelihood
To obtain work permits, refugees must present a letter from an employer wishing to hire them. Both Government and private employers hire nationals first unless there is a proven need for a foreigner’s expertise, and most employers were reluctant to hire refugees because of the delays in their obtain work permits.
Refugees are able to run businesses and engage in trade, and many use CTDs to travel to other countries to buy goods ranging from clothing to cars for import.
Refugees are entitled to the protection of labor legislation through the services of the Ministry of Labor and Home Affairs.
Public Relief and Education
Refugees only receive aid in the camp, which is mostly funded by the Government. Refugees and asylum-seekers have access to basic health services, but UNHCR is still pursuing an agreement with the Government to provide HIV-positive refugees with anti-retroviral drugs.
Hospitals in Botswana are open to foreigners on par with nationals, but many Zimbabweans reported being refused treatment and others avoided them by fear of being arrested. Refugees have access to elementary education at a level equivalent to that of Botswana nationals.
In anticipation of the arrival of Zimbabwean refugees, the United Nations Population Fund provided a reproductive health kit to the Ministry of Health, which included treatment for sexually transmitted infections, oral and injected contraception, a kit for the management of miscarriages and abortion complications, basic rape treatment, clinical delivery assistance, post exposure prophylaxis, and male and female condoms.
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