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Cablegate: Refugees in Botswana: An Update

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

081045Z Jul 05

ACTION AF-00

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FM AMEMBASSY GABORONE
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 2242
INFO SOUTHERN AFRICAN DEVELOPMENT COMMUNITY
HQ USEUCOM VAIHINGEN GE
WHITE HOUSE NSC WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS GABORONE 000951

SIPDIS


SENSITIVE

AF/S FOR MALONEY

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREF PGOV PHUM AO CG WA ZI BC HIV AIDS
SUBJECT: REFUGEES IN BOTSWANA: AN UPDATE

REFERENCE: (A) 04 GABORONE 756

(B) GABORONE 535

1. SUMMARY: The United Nations High Commissioner for
Refugees (UNHCR) in Botswana and the Francistown
Vicariate of the Catholic Church are exploring the
possibility of providing anti-retroviral (ARV) treatment
to a limited number of refugees. Approximately 550
Angolan refugees are registered to return home in mid-
July. Repatriation of Namibian refugees, complicated by
political factors, is proceeding more slowly. Zimbabwean
refugees fear that Mugabe agents are circulating in Dukwi
camp. The GOB continues to detain refuge/asylum seekers
and their children until their initial interviews despite
objections from UNHCR. Mission has encouraged the GOB to
review its policy not to provide ARV treatment to
refugees and is exploring possibilities to materially
support efforts to do so through civil society. END
SUMMARY.

POSSIBLE ARV TREATMENT FOR SOME REFUGEES

2. The UNHCR and the Francistown Vicariate of the
Catholic Church are exploring possibilities of providing
ARV treatment to some residents of the Dukwi refugee
camp, located an hour's drive northwest of Francistown in
north-eastern Botswana. The GOB maintains that budgetary
constraints do not allow it to extend to refugees the
free access to ARV treatment enjoyed by Batswana and that
most will not benefit from such treatment once
repatriated. Bishop Nubuasah of the Francistown
Vicariate told PolOff on June 28 that the Catholic Church
already pays for ARV treatment for 25 patients who are
ineligible to receive treatment from the Government.
According to the Bishop, the Vicariate could accommodate
an additional 25 patients. If UNHCR can ensure that
refugees will be able to travel from Dukwi to Francistown
on a regular basis for the necessary check ups, the
Vicariate will include them in the program, thereby
bringing it to full capacity. While UNHCR representative
at Dukwi Maureen Masters welcomed this opportunity, she
pointed out that the number of refugees in need of
treatment exceeded the additional 25 the Vicariate could
fund.

3. UNHCR HIV/AIDS Coordinator for southern Africa Laurie
Bruns told PolOff on June 30 that UNHCR's ultimate hope
is to persuade the GOB to amend its policy to include
refugees in its ARV and PMTCT programs on an equal basis
with Batswana. She pointed out that given the small
number of refugees in Botswana, their inclusion would
occasion only a minor increase in the total bill for
HIV/AIDS treatment. Bruns agreed that failing to provide
effective prevention in the camp undermined prevention
campaigns in the surrounding communities, which
intermingle with the refugees.

4. Few refugees take advantage of the counselling and
testing services offered to them, Masters told PolOff,
because they know treatment is not available. Although
both UNHCR and the Red Cross have prevention programs
involving peer educators, the general disinterest in
knowing one's status undermines these efforts.

ETHNIC TENSIONS AMONG CONGOLESE REFUGEES

5. According to Masters, the security situation in the
refugee camp is also somewhat problematic. Recently,
ethnic and regional differences among some of the
Congolese had created tensions. These were brought to a
head when a Congolese man from one group accused four
from a rival group of stealing from a UNHCR ration
warehouse. Counter-accusations ensued and polarized the
Congolese community. The Botswana Police Service took
the four suspects into custody and relocated them to the
Center for Illegal Immigrants in Francistown. Mr. Rufus
Tawana, Deputy Commander of the camp, told PolOff on June
27 that the police did not have enough evidence to charge
the four. Nonetheless, he expected the four suspects to
remain in detention until tempers have cooled. Although
uneasy with the indefinite detention of the suspects,
Masters thought that the incident had caused tensions to
reach a boiling point and hoped that the absence of the
four would ease that situation.

ZIMBABWEANS FEAR MUGABE'S HENCHMEN

6. A second security concern involved complaints from
Zimbabweans. Masters estimated that Zimbabweans

accounted for roughly 70 percent of new refuge/asylum
seekers. On several occasions, she said, Zimbabweans
living in the camp had expressed their belief that
security agents from the Government of Zimbabwe were
moving among refugees in the camp. She had no evidence
to confirm or disprove these fears, but given the
openness of the facility, did not dismiss them. Mr.
Tawana told PolOff that the camp administrators had
received such complaints. He pointed out, however, that
when the GOB had stationed Botswana Defense Force troops
at the camp "human rights groups" had complained that
this restricted the refugees' freedom of movement, so
they were removed. In the absence of evidence that
Zimbabwean or other residents are in danger, the GOB is
unlikely to enhance security at the camp.

ANGOLAN REPATRIATION IN MID-JULY

7. Approximately 550 Angolans have registered for a
repatriation scheduled for mid-July. UNHCR was still
awaiting final confirmation from the BDF of whether it
would provide two planes to transport refugees on one day
or one plane that would make two trips on separate dates.
This repatriation would halve the number of Angolans in
the camp. Masters explained to PolOff that at the end of
2005, UNHCR no longer will provide assistance to Angolan
refugees, either in the form of repatriation or the food
and non-food rations it currently provides. She hoped to
be able to organize another repatriation before year-end
but believed that would depend on whether the feedback
from those Angolans who returned in July could convince
the sceptics that it is safe to go home.

MOST NAMIBIANS STILL RELUCTANT TO RETURN

8. Repatriation of the slightly larger number of
Namibian refugees (about 1,200) is proceeding more
slowly. Only thirty-six Namibians signed up to
participate in two repatriations earlier this year, which
UNHCR Country Representative Benny Otim described to
PolOff as largely symbolic. Masters explained that many
Namibians genuinely fear for their safety upon return to
Namibia. A significant portion, however, refuse to
return for political reasons. During a registration
exercise in June, several Namibian refugees indicated
that they intended to return only to "an independent
Caprivi." Recognizing that repatriations to the Caprivi
Strip weaken their cause, advocates of independence for
Caprivi discourage their compatriots within the camp from
returning.

REFUGE/ASYLUM SEEKERS WAIT IN PRISON FOR INTERVIEW

9. In 2002, the GOB instituted a policy that refuge and
asylum seekers would have to wait in the Center for
Illegal Immigrants (operated by the Department of
Prisons) until their interview by the Refugee Advisory
Committee. They could then transfer to the refugee camp
in Dukwi to await a decision by the Ministry of
Presidential Affairs and Public Administration on whether
they would be accepted as refugees or asylees. In a June
28 meeting with PolOff, Commanding Officer at the Center
Mr. Diseko, could not say what prompted the GOB to
institute this costly policy change. (Unlike at the
camp, where UNHCR provides food and clothing, the GOB
must provide for those at the Center.) He explained that
the Center has a capacity of 500 but rarely has more than
200 inmates at a time. Roughly one-third of these,
Diseko estimated, are refuge/asylum seekers who can be in
detention for months before their interview. Most of the
remainder are illegal immigrants from Zimbabwe who rarely
stay more than one night before being deported.

10. According to Masters, some refuge/asylum seekers
have complained to the UNHCR of conditions in the Center.
Some claimed to have been beaten by guards there. Others
complained that family members rarely got to see one
another. UNHCR, which opposes the practice of detaining
refuge/asylum seekers, has specifically objected to the
detention of children in the Center whose parents are
awaiting interviews. These children do not have access
to education or recreation for the duration of their
detention, which can last for months. Mr. Diseko
confirmed to PolOff that five such children currently
were in detention with a parent. He denied, however, any
incidents of violence within the camp, either among
inmates themselves or involving guards, since the March
2004 escape attempt and riot that left the would-be
escapee dead and one inmate severely injured (Ref A).

COMMENT

11. Mission has encouraged the GOB to reassess its
refusal to provide ARV treatment to refugees (Ref B).
While that advocacy will continue, Mission is also
exploring with UNHCR and the Francistown Vicariate
possibilities to obtain additional funding to expand the
Vicariate's existing program and enable it to send
doctors to the camp rather than require refugees to
travel to Francistown.

HUGGINS


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