UNHCR satisfied with Caprivi repatriation

The office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on Wednesday said it was satisfied with the repatriation of Namibians after more than three years of exile in the Dukwe Refugee Camp in Botswana.

Hundreds of Namibians from the Caprivi Strip, in the east of the country, fled into Botswana in late 1998 and early 1999 at the height of secessionist troubles in the region.

Following a tripartite agreement between UNHCR, Namibia, and Botswana in April, 591 refugees have so far been voluntarily repatriated. The majority of them were members of the San group from Omega, and nearby settlements in West Caprivi.

"We are pleased with the progress. The latest reports from the field are very positive. The returnees have settled into their respective sites and have been welcomed by the locals," UNHCR Resident Representative, Hesdy Radhling, told IRIN.

Asked how the returnees felt about security, Radhling said: "We have been monitoring all of the resettled sites on a weekly basis. The feedback has been encouraging. There have not been any reports from returnees of threats nor intimidation."

Family members earlier this year had raised concern over the security of refugees hoping to return to the Caprivi, following alleged harassment by security forces.

Radhling said that although the government had provided the returnees with iron sheeting which was being used to make temporary shelters, UNHCR was concerned about the shortage of potable water and the long distances the refugees had to travel for medical attention.

"The additional number of people in certain areas means that there is a strain on the supply of drinking water. We are working with the government to build more water points. Also, because the medical services are quite far from many of the resettled areas, the returnees have to be transported. We are looking into building more clinics and additional primary school classrooms," Radhling said.

Mine awareness, HIV/AIDS training, and an adult literacy project were also under consideration, he said.

The relief agency said a further 500 refugees would be repatriated in October.

The Caprivi region has been hard hit by this year's poor harvest. According to a government food assessment, only 9,000 of the almost 80,000 people in the Caprivi said they could pull through the drought without assistance.

"While the situation in the region is bad, we don't expect fatalities. We have supplies to provide for the most vulnerable," said Radhling.