While taking on the United Kingdom for colonial crimes, Swapo lawmaker Tobie Aupindi says Namibia must return the favour in the wake of the former’s decision to revoke its visa-free entry for Namibians.
UK charities have also made their voices heard in opposing the decision. Last week, the UK government announced it had cancelled Namibia’s status due to purported abuse of asylum and other immigration laws. It is a decision many Namibians took with a pinch of salt. One of them is Aupindi.
“[The decision] is very disappointing and could undermine the excellent bilateral relationship that has existed between Namibia and Britain for 33 years,” the soft-spoken politician said.
For Aupindi, it should be an eye for an eye. “For years, citizens of both countries have enjoyed free entry into both countries due to the ‘non-visa’ policy employed by both countries due to the excellent relationship between our two
countries. However, the unilateral decision by the British government is simply unacceptable, and I call on the Namibian government to offer our British friend’s reciprocity on the same with immediate effect,” a candid Aupindi said to this paper recently.
He was not done, adding that the decision by the UK could be considered ‘a bullying tactic by a “big brother, acting outside the parameters of the good bilateral relationship and without recourse on the impact such a decision will have on ordinary Namibians travelling to the UK – either as tourists or for business”.
Aupindi does not buy the reason advanced by the Brits prior to arriving at the decision.
“I stand to be corrected, but a visa is a travel document that allows you to enter a foreign country for a specific period of time. This is different from asylum-seeking, which mainly, particularly across Europe, provides subsidiary protection for those facing threats from their country, such as the death penalty or execution; torture,
inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, or threats from an international or internal armed conflict.”
But the Namibian backbencher was not the only one who condemned the decision.
Two non-governmental organisations in the UK also came out strongly in the media against their government’s anti-immigrant stance.
Refugee Action, one of the leading organisations that provides legal advice, and support to refugees and asylum seekers in the UK, has come out strongly to blast the British government for introducing visa requirements for visiting Namibians and Hondurans.
The group, which was founded in 1981 to campaign for a fairer asylum system in the UK, has described the passing of the Refugee Ban Bill in both UK houses of parliament as ill-timed and irresponsible.
Asli Tatliadim, head of campaigns at Refugee Action, said: “It feels like a sick joke that the day after the government passes a law that slams the door on refugees entering the country by boat, it does the same to people who come by a safe route.
“Ministers have stripped the rights of Hondurans fleeing violence and people from Namibia facing possible political and homophobic persecution from claiming asylum in the UK. It’s time our leaders changed tack and worked to create a fair asylum system that’s about keeping people safe – not keeping people out,” she said.
Another similar group, Care4Calais, which is a volunteer-run refugee charity working with immigrants in the UK, France and Belgium, has also condemned the Refugee Ban Bill and said it infringes upon international law on human rights.
Steve Smith, CEO of Care4Calais, said: “Every time the government cuts safe routes to claim asylum, they push more people into the hands of smugglers and force them onto more dangerous routes”.
In an interview with New Era last Friday, British high commissioner to Namibia, Charles Moore, was unrepentant in their resolve.
The decision to impose a visa regime was allegedly made due to a sustained and significant increase in the number of UK asylum applications from Namibian nationals at UK borders since 2016.
Moore said the surge of Namibian asylum seekers in the UK has made it challenging for individuals from war-torn nations and those genuinely in need of protection to access it.
“Prior to the revocation of the visa-free entry into the UK by Namibians, we have been working together with the Namibian government to see if we can address the issue of asylum-seekers – and it’s not only a concern to us (UK) but to the Namibian government as well,” said Moore.
It is further Aupindi’s fervent view that if the UK government has a problem with the asylum seekers from Namibia, “then they should turn down those applications, rather than introducing visa requirements for Namibian entering the UK”.
“The fact that the UK has now unilaterally introduced an entry visa for Namibians does not mean Namibians will cease to seek asylum in the UK because, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), everyone has a right to seek asylum. As a UN member country, the UK government has an obligation to receive applications for asylum from whoever, then scrutinise each application and approve it or reject it based on merit,” he said.
According to Aupindi, “the top asylum seekers in the UK according to countries during the years 2022/2023 are: Albania 13 714, Afghanistan 9 606, Iran 7 719, India 3 911, Iraq 3 715, Bangladesh 3 319, Syria 3 288, Sudan 2 712 and Pakistan 2 317 – just to mention but a few – and Namibia is at number 17, with roughly 935 asylum seekers”.
What is more, Aupindi believes, the UK has a responsibility to make up for its colonial crimes.
He said, despite suffering the longest history of colonisation on the African continent, Namibians are some of the most peace-loving people in the world and generally travel for “peaceful purposes; they do not export violence, human trafficking or terrorism”.
“Countries like the UK must understand they have a special responsibility to act with care and courtesy, particularly when dealing with countries like Namibia that were colonised by Western Europe – and much of that dark colonial past left an unaccounted-for legacy of devastation,” he said.
The former Namibia Wildlife Resorts boss minced no words.
“While it is true that we, as Africans, seek an amicable way forward with those who formerly perpetrated colonial operations in our countries, we cannot, shall not and will not allow bullying tactics – and instead, we seek and want bilateral relations based on mutual respect and interest between Namibia and other countries, with a greater focus on economic development through science and technologies,” he said.
Meanwhile, Moore told New Era that visa application is nothing strange, as Namibians are required to apply for the same, even when travelling to countries considered Namibia’s allies.
He pointed to the United States, European Union, Canada, Russia, China and Venezuela.
“You need visas for all those countries – and so the fact that the UK has been visa-free is something that we’ve wanted for many years, and we would like for it to apply again – but first we need to address the asylum issue to stop the flow of people abusing the system,” he said.