UNHCR to End Its Operations in Namibia

THE United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) will officially shut down its operations in Namibia at the end of this month after 23 years.

UNHCR country representative Lawrence Mgbangson said they were closing the office in the country because Namibia’s refugee population has drastically reduced to below 5 000 and that the capacity of government to independently contain refugees has grown since 1992 when the Osire Refugee Camp was first set up in the Otjozondjupa region.

An estimated 3 000 refugees remain at the camp.

“Government can now deal with the refugees because it has the capacity, is qualified and fully capable,” said Mgbangson.

He also said an action plan has already been established for government to take over the implementation of refugee programmes.

However, questions have been raised as to whether government is fully prepared to shoulder the responsibility of the 3 000 remaining refugees at the Osire Camp on its own.

Home affairs minister Pendukeni Iivula-Ithana yesterday told The Namibian that government will continue receiving assistance from UNHCR and did not express much concern regarding the readiness of government to take over the programmes while her deputy Erastus Utoni said government will assist refugees with the limited resources it has at its disposal.

“We will still operate from our offices in Pretoria and send experts to come and assist refugees in Namibia with food and non-food items through the new voucher system,” said Mgbangson.

As of April 2015, Namibia has been hosting 2 654 refugees and asylum seekers, 80% of whom are from Congo, while the rest come from Rwanda, Burundi, Zimbabwe and other countries.

Mgbangson revealed that about 30 asylum seekers arrive in Namibia every month. He said with the secession clause on the Namibian refugees in Botswana, about 600 Namibian refugees are expected to voluntarily return home by November this year.

Mgbangson said that Namibia will be opening its first transit centre at the town of Katima Mulilo on 25 June that will allow for the receiving and screening of refugees between the Namibian and Angolan border.

The centre will be run by staff from the Ministry of Home Affairs and Immigration. The office was procured at a cost of N$1 million.

UNHCR has been instrumental during the peak of 2003 and 2005, when it repatriated between 10 000 to 15 000 Angolan refugees from Namibia.

“With the invocation of the cessation clause for Angolan refugees in 2012, UNHCR repatriated about 3 200 Angolan refugees,” he said, adding that UNHCR had donated N$1,5 million for the finalisation of the issue of resident permits which is still in progress.

He said government approved the local integration of 2 400 former Angolan refugees since then with the resettlement of more than 684 refugees between 2010 and 2015.

The UNHCR also donated N$3,5 million for the construction of classrooms in the Oshana, Otjozondjupa and Kavango East regions for refugee children while an extra N$6 million was spent on local integration.

This year, the UNHCR also plans to assess 250 individuals for resettlement. More than 221 individuals were referred to the regional hub while 124 individuals submitted applications to resettlement countries such as the USA and Canada.

Namibia’s commissioner for refugees Nkrumah Mushelenga emphasised that it is only through settling of international disputes that Namibia and the world can solve the international refugee problem.

Mushelenga also called on Namibians to make use of highly qualified refugees’ ‘brain gains’ to contribute to the country’s economy.

Source : The Namibian