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UN refugee agency denounces Botswana's return of asylum seekers to Namibia

UN refugee agency denounces Botswana's return of asylum seekers to Namibia

Denouncing Botswana's recent deportation of eight Namibian asylum seekers to their home country, the United Nations refugee agency today pressed the Gaborone Government for an explanation.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) also called Botswana's action a violation of its "non-refoulement" policy, which prohibits the forced return of asylum-seekers to areas where they could face danger - a cornerstone of international refugee protection. The Namibians in question could be charged with high treason.

The agency said it was neither given a chance to look into the cases nor advised of the deportations. "We cannot accept that these asylum seekers were deported without a chance to explain their case," said UNHCR's representative in Botswana, Benny Otim.

After seeking asylum, the eight were removed from a detention centre for illegal immigrants in Francistown on 10 December. The authorities say they lost their claim to asylum after allegedly going back to visit Namibia while seeking asylum in Botswana.

Human rights groups agree that some of the men had gone back but stress that they were forced to flee again because of rising tensions in northeastern Namibia's Caprivi Strip.

According to these groups, the men were reportedly seen on 15 December shackled and under heavy guard at a local court in a Caprivi Strip town near the border with Zambia. They have since allegedly been transferred to a maximum-security prison in Grootfontein in northern Namibia. UNHCR's Namibia office is watching the case closely.