Congolese refugees trapped in no-man's-land

A 41-strong contingent of refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo have been stranded in the no-man's-land between Botswana and Namibia for more than two weeks after a dispute with Namibian authorities.

The Congolese, many of whom have been in Namibia for nearly a decade, left the Osire refugee camp - about 220km northeast of Windhoek, Namibia's capital - after deaths threats, said Phil ya Nangoloh, executive director of the National Society for Human Rights (NSHR) in Namibia.

Many of the 41 Congolese refugees at the Osire camp had made written complaints to the Namibian government about fears for their safety and conditions in the camp, Ya Nangoloh told IRIN.

The Osire refugee camp is home to about 6,500 people: roughly three-quarters are Angolan, while the remaining nationalities are drawn from the Great Lakes region and other African states. Namibia hosts about 8,000 refugees.

According to local media reports, Namibia's Ministry of Home Affairs and Immigration responded to the Congolese concerns by telling them to "stop writing sensational articles", as this constituted a threat to national peace and security, and if they did not desist they would be asked to leave the country.

"We took it as we were basically expelled by the Namibian government, and we decided to look for where we could go for safety instead," one of the Congolese, Bibich Mwenze, told local media. The refugees are between the border posts of Buitepos in Namibia and Mamuno in Botswana.

The Congolese have only the refugee arrival forms issued at Osire, but a Botswana border official told local media: "All we can tell you is that our government's position is very clear on this one - they will not enter here without the valid documents."

Joyce Mends-Cole, Country Representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), declined to comment on the situation to IRIN, saying that the refugee agency was involved in negotiations with the Congolese refugees and Namibian government to resolve the matter.