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Why Gov’t deported Ugandan refugees

Martin Dingake of Dingake Law Partners

Following hurdles and long court battles, the government of Botswana has finally deported two Ugandan refugees who were incarcerated at the Dukwi refugee camp – while clearly acting in contempt of court.

The refugees, Musa Isabirye and Timothy Yamin had complained over living poor conditions and harassment by security agents at the migrant camp where they were residing prior to deportation.

In a court order, government was warned against deporting the Ugandan refugees. In fact, the order which was released on 23 October 2015 by Francistown High Court had barred the government or anyone from deporting them.

The court order stated that: “the respondents or anyone acting under their authority are prohibited and/or interdicted from deporting the applicants until the application for an interim interdict is determined to its finality.”

It further ruled that “the notice prohibiting applicants (refugees) legal representatives from consulting their clients is declared unconstitutional, irrational and unlawful. The applicants’ legal representatives are hereby permitted to consult applicants.”

WeekendPost can confirm that the refugees were on Monday night (26 October 2015) around 10pm last week deported under harsh circumstances.

In addition, their lawyer Martin Dingake of Dingake Law Partners was denied access to properly consult with them prior to their extradition, following their brief detention at Sir Seretse Khama Airport police station.

Government senior attorney at the Attorney General chambers Morulaganyi Chamme also confirmed in an affidavit, in which the refugees’ had filed an application for contempt of court based on their lawyers alleged denial of access to consult with them, that “my information is that the applicants (refugees) are no longer in the custody or control of people before the court in the current proceedings, because they were deported on the 26th October.”

Chamme said he however never discussed the court order with the Commissioner of Police and of Prisons and Rehabilitation. He said his concentration was on the deportation which was controlled by the Department of Immigration.

Meanwhile, a lawyer representing the Ugandan refugees, Martin Dingake said that the deportation is unfortunate as it points out to a contempt of court order.

“I therefore cannot deny nor confirm it but I have absolutely no reason to disbelieve it, coming as it does, from a person of Chamme’s rank within the AG’s chambers,” he told this publication.  

Chamme, the AG senior official defended government and justified the contempt of court: “there is no evidence that the Attorney General, Commissioner of Police and Commissioner of Prisons and Rehabilitation have willfully disobeyed the court order. The founding affidavit clearly shows that the Commissioner of Prisons was completely removed from the conduct complained of. I aver that Attorney General Officials and to promote compliance with it. The rest of the respondents will explain their roles but my instruction are that they did not intend to disobey the order of court.”  

Assistant Superintendent and deputy Station Commander at Sir Seretse Khama Airport Police Station, where the refugees were detained before being booted out of the country, Unoziba Rari also stated in the responding affidavit that “it has never been the intention of government to disobey any court order.” In fact he said the deportation of refugees is a preserve of the Immigration Department, which only provide support service, such as a holding cell, where necessary.

Rari also armored supervision saying: “all deportation decisions are made and affected by immigration department, hence, there is no way that we could act to the contrary of a court order in an immigration department case.”

As a consequence, Dingake stated in his replying affidavit on 3 November 2015 that he therefore “seek an order in terms of the draft order and will edge the court at the hearing of this matter, that the contempt as regards deportation be referred to oral evidence so that the key players are identified and each answer as to their role and can be examined and cross-examined.”

Most surprisingly, Dingake said the deponent does not explain how it could be that after an order was obtained interdicting the government or its officials from deporting the applicants while the deportation was nevertheless carried out.

“It is not difficult to see why the deponent would not have been firm with the Director as regards the order. This is mostly so because of the deponent’s attitude towards the court order, an attitude that was to play a role, one way or the other about not just refusal to allow me an opportunity to consult clients but also to have them deported in the middle of the night and under the cover of darkness,” the refugees prominent lawyer punched maintained.

He stressed that there can be no wilful disobedience of a court order other than this, done with the condonation of the office of the Attorney General and its officers, amongst whom the deponent is a senior member of.

“The Attorney General and her officers have thus degraded our values as a constitutional democracy because of misgivings they have about a court order and about which they have done absolutely nothing or very little, if any, to challenge.”

Meanwhile, when contacted for comment, Minister of Labour and Home Affairs Edwin Batshu who authorizes deportations said he does not know whether the Ugandan refugees have been extradited. “Please check with Shaw Kgathi as he manages refugees,” he told WeekendPost in a telephonic brief interview.

This publication then contacted Minister for Defense, Justice and Security (MoDJS) Shaw Kgathi who fumed at this newspaper when asked to ascertain if indeed Ugandan refugees and Eritrean asylum seekers as well as lawyer Salbany have been or are in the process of being deported: “whoever told you that will tell you the whole story,” adding that “I am in a meeting” before he hung up the phone.

According to Public Relations Officer in the MoJDS Samma Tabudi, “we do not have any refugees in Botswana as their status was long revoked in terms of section 11 (a) of the Refugees (Recognition and Control) Act (CAP 25:01).”   

Tabudi however would not elaborate more on why they were repealed and on the other hand Dingake insisted that his clients are and were security threats and the deponent does not say how they are threats to national security.
10 Eritrean asylum seekers may seek resettlement

In a related matter, Lobatse High Court previously ruled against government’s move to refuse to grant 10 Eritrean football players who were requested asylum after losing 3 – 1 to Botswana national team in the 2018 world cup qualifiers – citing human rights violations in their country.  

WeekendPost has established that the players will eventually exit the borders of Botswana and be resettled in another country believed to be in Southern Africa. It is not clear yet as to why the government is booting out the asylum seekers.

A lawyer representing the Eritrean asylum seekers Dick Bayford of Bayford Associates told this publication that government has been speaking to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) about their resettlement.  

“The 10 Eritrean football players seeking for refugee status currently in Botswana will be moved to another country that is at least not of their origin,” Bayford highlighted. The notorious lawyer known for fighting gigantic battles with government said the resettlement of the Eritreans is now being discussed with countries that will host them.

Through Bayford’s facilitation, as sanctioned by Eritrea Movement for Democracy and Human Rights, the Eritrean asylum seekers were relieved by a High Court ruling in Lobatse on October, 19, which interceded and ruled in errand of the

Eritrean players which obligated the government to climb down on their prior move and agreed to grant them asylum.

The players have since been kept at an illegal immigrant detention centre.

However, when addressing a Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) media briefing this week Kgathi denied allegations that Botswana has somehow withdrawn Eritrean football players’ asylum.

He was saying this in light of a leaked letter from Permanent secretary, Segakweng Tsiane to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) stating that the ten players should seek asylum elsewhere.

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