513 ex-refugees feud with government

07 March 2021 | Society

Windhoek • [email protected]

A group of 538 Angolans living at Osire refugee camp are at legal loggerheads with the Namibian government who they accuse of trying to forcefully evict them and dump them on the streets.
But the Namibian government argues that the 538 individuals still living at Osire are there unlawfully after their refugee status lapsed in 2012 and are refusing all efforts to integrate into Namibian society or return to Angola.
“The applicants are refusing to cooperate with the measures put in place for local integration and they have been making demands which they are not entitled to,” commissioner of refugees at the immigration ministry, Likius Valombola, says in an affidavit.
He underlines that the refugees are demanding housing or plots, and money from a fund that never existed. “The former Angolan refugees are no longer entitled to reside at Osire Refugee Settlement and they are no longer refugees,” he says, as per a 2012 United Nations agreement.
Moreover, he underlines that the option to integrate into Namibian society instead of returning to Angola does not entitle them to free land. “They were specifically informed they would not be provide with houses or plots or lands,” he stresses.

Fiasco
Eight Angolan men have launched the lawsuit against the Prime Minister, the immigration ministry and UNHCR in South Africa on behalf of the 538 Angolans. They are not only demanding land and a restoration of aid and refugee status, but also accuse the government of sending in the army in 2018 to chase them from the camp.
They are asking the court to order government to cease violent threats against them and to restore their refugee status, permission to stay at the camp and aid. “We, the family of 538 remaining former Angolan refugees, will never leave Osire Refugee Settlement until the full implementation of the integration process with the allocation of houses or building materials for each family,” they write in court documents.
They say their integration has “been a big fiasco … and the reality on the ground is laughable”.

Stubborn
Valombola in his affidavit highlights the 2012 UNHCR decision to withdraw refugee status from Angolans gave the refugees a choice to stay and integrate or return home. “They were informed that the Namibian government and UNHCR would not provide or acquire land or plots for them; they would have to acquire the land or plots themselves.”
The refugees were also informed that if they could not sustain themselves, they should approach the UN for assistance to be repatriated to Angola. “Former refugees are not entitled to more than Namibian citizens are entitled to. They must comply with the laws of Namibia like any other person in Namibia,” Valombola underlines.
He says the former refugees are unlawfully staying at Osire Refugee Settlement, but that government has at this stage not removed them as discussions are still underway. He denies that the army has been used at any stage to evict them.

Money
The Angolan’s allege that the UNHCR gave U$80 million to Namibia to assist with the integration, but the government denies this.
In August 2020, the UNHCR confirmed to the home affairs ministry that no such sum was ever budgeted for or handed over by them to Namibia relating to the refugees from Angola.
Leonard Zulu, the UNHCR South African representative, points out however that “what is important is that the former refugees from Angola [are] asking for assistance with their local integration, and for this UNHCR is read to help them in line with a government approved programme”.
The refugees represent themselves in the case, and government attorney Heather Harker is leading the defence.
On Wednesday, the case was before High Court judge Kobus Miller for a management conference hearing. No new court date has been announced yet.

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