Osire ‑ The refugee problem – mostly a result of civil wars and other internal conflicts ‑ has caused untold suffering to the affected worldwide, and the difficulties faced by those assisting the displaced people, including the Namibian government, cannot be overlooked.
Namibia faces the major challenge of hosting people who have been rejected refugee status and asylum in the country, as these are not catered for by the UNHCR or other donor agencies.
There are 24 million displaced people worldwide, 15 million of these are in Africa.
Speaking to The Southern Times ahead of the commemoration of International Refugees Day in Osire this past week, the Acting Administrator of Osire Refugee Resettlement in the Otjozondjupa Region, Jason Absalom, said Namibia is having problems dealing with people who have been denied refugee status and refuse to move out of the settlement.
About 90 people have failed to meet the requirements for refugee status, some because they have failed to provide credible or consistent information during the vetting exercise.
He said most of the refugees were rejected for providing false information about the country of origin during the registration of refugees and asylum seekers in Namibia in 2007 and again in 2011 and could not be registered as refugees by the Ministry of Home Affairs.
These, however, remain the responsibility of the Namibian government as long as they are in the Namibian territory.
He also said there are those who do not wish to return to their countries of origin when their reason for fleeing their country has ceased, for example, refugees from Angola.
Angola started to re-establish its peace and harmony in 2002 after emerging from a prolonged and devastating civil war, which broke out in 1975 between UNITA and the armed forces of the Angolan government.
UNITA leader, Jonas Savimbi, was killed in an ambush in February 2002 by the Angolan military armed forces, ending the civil war.
Absalom said the government of Namibia, in collaboration with the United Nation High Commission of Refugees (UNHCR) and the Angolan government, has, however, managed to successfully repatriate 3 000 Angolan refugees on voluntary repatriation following the invocation of the Cessation Clause for Angolan refugees on June 30, 2012.
According to the 1951 United Nations General Cessation Declaration, the international protection of a specific group of refugees ceases if circumstances that led to their recognition as refugees have ceased to exist.
“I don’t see the need for the thousands of Angolans to live in refugee camps, because of the peace and tranquility now in Angola, one cannot be a refugee forever,” he said.
Most of the refugees who refused to go back have applied for integration into the Namibian society. The applications are still being profiled and Cabinet will make the final decision on the integration issue, Absalom revealed.
“The challenge facing us here is that most of people based in this campus are not refugees but regarded as economic migrants who emigrated from one region to another region for the purposes of seeking employment or to improve their financial position. They did not qualify for refugee status and this is a challenge to us in the sense that since these people are based in our country, it is our government’s obligation to look after them,” Absalom said.
Absalom further said most of these refugees have been in the settlement for more than 10 years and the increase in their population is a growing concern for the Namibian government and UNHCR, as they are totally dependent on provisions of basic amenities and this exercise is becoming costly.
He further noted that although the voluntary repatriation operation that occurred last year, led to a dramatic reduction in the refugee’s population in Namibia, Osire still holds 2 800 refugees, more than 100 of whom are Angolans who have lost their refugee status, and therefore have to apply for alternative status.
Angola has, however, urged its nationals living in Osire to obtain Angolan national identification to help them settle their integration into the Namibian society.
Meanwhile, many refugees from Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, (DRC), Rwanda, Somalia, Tanzania and Zimbabwe have found Osire a ‘peaceful home’. None of the people the newspaper interviewed is willing to go back home.
“I would rather die in Namibia than return to Angola. There is no peace in that country. People are being killed every day for no reason. I survived a long journey to reach here at Osire,” said Juao Susu Sapi.
Sapi, a father of eight and owner of 8-roomed Sapi Guest House – the only guesthouse in the settlement ‑ said he has been living in a camp for almost 23 years now. He wants to be integrated into the community so that he can continue running his accommodation and transport businesses.
Though Sapi would not explain what forced him to leave his country, he is adamant he does not want to go back home, as there is no one to go back to. His parents are deceased and they were also leaving in the settlement.
Sapi is among the Angolans that applied for integration and is hopeful that one day his dream of becoming a Namibian will come true.
A woman from Burundi, who refused to be identified, said: “Life at Osire is very good. The government is helping us and our children. Education, health and food are for free here. It is my final resting place, I don’t want to go back to my home county,” she said.
Another woman said, “I think Namibian people are wonderful. The big difference I see in this country is that people like peace. They respect one another and they have civil rights.”
However, dejected Dominic Milambo Kasongo (14), who came into the settlement when he was two years old, is tired of the life in the settlement.
Dominic has known no other life, but what he knows is he cannot keep eating the same food beans and vegetables that has become his daily diet together with his 12 siblings. The daily routine of school, home, movie, sleep are no fun for Dominic anymore.
He, however, has dreams of becoming a lawyer and hopefully that would give him a better life. Many children in the settlement know no other life, yet many professionals have come out of this lot that many in society would shun.
Meanwhile, the UNHCR Country Representative for Namibia, Dr Lawrence Mgbangson, revealed the organisation’s plans to gradually phase down and phase out operations in Namibia by 2014-15. Mgbangson said UNHCR and the Namibian government have come up with an action plan to enable UNHCR’s smooth exit as well as strengthen the capacity of the ministry dealing with refugees including the Office of the Commissioner for Refugees to continue with operation when UNHCR leaves.
“The plan of action includes locally integrating the remaining Angolan refugees in Namibia who for obvious reason were not able to return to Angola as well as to assist the government of Namibia to adjust about 1 300 asylum applications that have been waiting for quite some time for refugee status,” he said.
He further said the stakeholders would also introduce a cash voucher system in order to give food and other assistance to the refugees by January 2014, based on the memorandum of understanding signed between the WFP and UNHCR that as soon as the population of refugees falls below 5 000, the WFP hands over the responsibility of refugees’ food security to UNHCR.
Dr Mgbangson said the UNHCR would also assist the Namibian government to open a liaison office in Katima Mulilo to assist in processing applications for refugee status to new asylum seekers coming to Namibia. This would ensure that only those people granted refugee status would come into Namibia.
UNHCR will continue to monitor Namibia’s refugee situation from its regional office in Pretoria, South Africa.
According to the Special Advisor to the Minister of Home Affairs and Immigration, Dr Ngarikutuke Tjiaringe, hosting refugees is a constitutional mandate prescribed in Article 97 of the Namibian Constitution and Namibia would continue to host the remaining refugees and asylum seekers while promoting voluntary repatriation, resettlement and local integration.