According to the acting Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Defence, Justice and Security Pearl Ramokoka, the children of former Namibian refugees had to be withdrawn from school to join their parents who are being processed for deportation.
“These children have had to be withdrawn from school to join their parents who are scheduled to leave Botswana on deportation. There has not been any forceful removal of former Namibian refugee students from school by any member of the Special Support Group (a unit of the Botswana Police Service,” said Ramokoka.
She said the Court of Appeal judgment of 26 July confirmed the position that former Namibian refugees had to return to Namibia because they ceased to be refugees in 2015.
Ramokoka said in preparation for their return to Namibia, a grace period of one month was given for their voluntary registration for repatriation.
“The legal implication of the Court of Appeal decision referred to above is that the former Namibian refugees are now classified as illegal immigrants,” Ramokoka said.
She said the former Namibian refugees unfortunately failed to take advantage of the dispensation extended to them to register for repatriation under the Tripartite Agreement signed by the Botswana and Namibian governments and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
According to the official, registration for voluntary repatriation would have, among other things, entitled the refugees to repatriation packages from the UNHCR in the form of resettlement allowances and associated benefits as well as consideration for their children’s educational placement upon resettlement in Namibia.
“Regrettably, only three former Namibian refugee families out of eight hundred and fifty-five (855) former Namibian refugees registered to be repatriated under the Tripartite Agreement,” said Ramokoka.
Ramokoka was commenting following an outcry by local human rights activists and students that the decision to withdraw the children of the former refugees from school was inhumane and was a violation of their rights.
In a petition to President Mokgweetsi Masisi, human rights lawyer Kgosi Ngakaagae described the decision as “inhumane and gravely disappointing.”
“This is happening just as some of them are about to write high school exams, we are told,” the lawyer said.
He added: “One can only hope it is all untrue because if it is not, then I'm truly ashamed of my government. That is not the Botswana we want. A cruel and heartless Botswana is not the Botswana the President has been promising us.”
He said no child should be “forcibly plucked out school just because Namibian authorities can't wait to prosecute and jail their parents.”
School mates of the refugees’ children also petitioned the First Lady pleading with her to intervene.
“Our loving mother, we humbly ask you to negotiate on our behalf for these kids to be allowed to write their final exams. Through your intervention, their right to education will be restored,” the petition said.
They added: “With little or no help from our school, you are our last source of hope.”
Other locals have also taken to social media to condemn the government’s decision to withdraw the children from school pending deportation.