At least 300 Zimbabwean political refugees, some of them army deserters, are fighting imminent deportation from Botswana.
They fled to Botswana in 2008 during a violent election season that forced former President Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai into a power-sharing deal facilitated by then SA president Thabo Mbeki.
Twelve years later, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said the refugees were no longer at risk and should register for voluntary repatriation by February 28 or face deportation.
Dukwi Refugee Camp protection officer Olivia Mugambi said due diligence was done and the UN was convinced it was safe to return home. Her conviction was supported by Zimbabwe’s ambassador to Botswana, Henry Mukonoweshuro, who said, “It’s the government’s desire to have Zimbabweans in Zimbabwe.”
Despite all assurances, promises of a cash incentive and food parcels for those who register for repatriation, the refugees launched a bid to stay in Botswana through a petition to the UNHCR head office in Geneva, Switzerland.
Zimbabwe People Power Movement (ZPPM), a lobby group representing them, said the refugees were “true enemies of the Zanu-PF-led government in Zimbabwe,” and would face persecution upon their return home.
“It appears like the UNHCR Botswana and Botswana government have closed all avenues of help to these poor souls and the only remaining gap is for the people to return to Zimbabwe.
“This is truly a matter of public interest in that so many Zimbabweans and the world at large know that returning these people to the Zimbabwe government is like sending them to hell,” read the petition.
ZPPM said some of the refugees were former soldiers who had opposed orders to beat up civilians. Upon returning home they would be court-martialled.
“They [army deserters] refused such orders [beating civilians] and so fled for their lives after they had been put on the wanted list,” said ZPPM.
Meanwhile, the EU has renewed sanctions on Zimbabwe’s ruling elite and companies linked to them because of the continuing need to investigate the role of security forces in human rights abuses.
“The purpose of the EU restrictive measures is to encourage a demonstrable, genuine and long-term commitment by the Zimbabwean authorities to respect and uphold human rights and the rule of law,” said the EU.
“The lack of substantial reforms has allowed the continued deterioration of the humanitarian, economic and social situation. Violations of human rights and limitations on the democratic space are also persisting.”