Botswana has expressed concern over an influx of asylum seekers who fled from countries where they had already been granted refugee status. Nearly 700 refugees have arrived from neighboring Zimbabwe, citing poor conditions at the refugee camp, while others have come from South Africa, driven out by xenophobic attacks.
Addressing journalists Tuesday, Botswana’s minister of justice, Machana Shamukuni, said the country has seen the arrival of “onward movement” asylum seekers.
He said Botswana expressed its concern over the issue at a recent executive committee meeting of the U.N. refugee agency in Geneva, Switzerland.
“These are asylum seekers that have been granted international protection elsewhere, but they still come to Botswana to seek asylum again,” he said. “Once you are accorded international protection, the expectation, even in the international community is that you should stay there so that you are protected, you enjoy protection there, but when you proceed to another country and seek protection again when you are accorded protection in another jurisdiction, then it becomes problematic.”
The majority of the 688 recent arrivals, originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, more recently lived at the Tongogara Refugee Camp in Zimbabwe.
Shamukuni said others are Somalis who left South Africa due to xenophobic attacks.
“On the challenges of onward movement, as to why they decide to leave camp in areas where they are given international protection and they come to Botswana to seek asylum again, it talks to conditions in some of the camps,” he said. “Issues of housing, education, issues of access to health. These are the reasons they state. But also you will recall, in South Africa, there was the issue of xenophobia. It drove out a lot of them, particularly the Somalis.”
Adriano Nuvunga, director of the Center for Democracy and Development in Maputo, Mozambique, said Botswana’s peace and stability are magnets for fleeing refugees.
“Botswana is one of those victims due to its political stability and some possibilities for people to find opportunities and survival and also the welcoming nature of the Botswana people,” he said. “These nations will continue to suffer an influx of refugees because of failed governance systems in our region which triggers conflicts and conflict triggers people to seek refugee [status]. It’s a vicious cycle of bad governance.”
Zimbabwean-born Watson Chibi, who has spent nearly two decades as a refugee in Botswana, said asylum seekers are lured to the country due to prospects of a better life.
“Pertaining [to] the issue of refugees from Somalia and DRC coming to Botswana, it’s an issue that when I was a refugee, it was worrisome,” he said. “In Botswana, when you are from Somalia or DRC, resettlement is very easy. People go for resettlement from those two countries.”
Due to its isolated location, Botswana’s refugee population has never been high, and is now down to 1,019 from more than 3,000 three years ago, as the U.N. refugee agency scales down operations.
The majority of refugees, mostly from Namibia and Zimbabwe, were repatriated over the last two years.