The British high commissioner, Charles Moore said the surge of Namibian asylum seekers in the United Kingdom is putting immense strain on that country’s asylum system, making it challenging for individuals from war-torn nations and those genuinely in need of protection to access it.
In addition, Moore asserted that Namibia is a peaceful country, and there seems to be no valid justification for Namibians to seek asylum in the UK.
Such actions could have adverse consequences, potentially tarnishing Namibia’s reputation on the international stage.
He said this in an interview with New Era on Friday.
Last week, the British government announced a policy change by requiring Namibians to apply for a visa if they wish to travel to the UK.
This decision comes in response to concerns about the abuse of the free-visa entry system by some Namibian travellers.
“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.
The diplomat remarked, there have been a notable rise in the arrival of Namibian nationals seeking asylum in the UK over the past few years.
The figures demonstrate a substantial increase, with only 27 asylum claims in 2016 escalating to 651 in 2022. Even more strikingly, during the first three months of 2023 alone, there were already 382 new claims.
Considering this rapid surge, Moore expressed concern that the total number of asylum-seekers for this year could potentially surpass last year’s count by more than double.
Despite several engagements to solve the issue, Moore said there’s no other solution readily available to stop people travelling to UK to claim asylum.
“Namibia is a free democratic country and everybody has a right to travel and they are not restricted which is quite right and so it’s very difficult to try and stop the flow of people who are trying to reach the UK probably to get a job or other economic reasons.
“Other than that there’s no reason for anybody to claim asylum from Namibia. There’s no persecution, there’s no arbitrary imprisonment. There’s no conflict, there’s no famine and those are the reasons why people normally claim asylum and none of them apply to Namibia, so the number of people turning up and claiming asylum is quite a big concern to both countries,” he explained.
Earlier this year, the British government announced that over 90% of Namibian asylum seekers in the United Kingdom will be deported.
When questioned about the extent of facilitation regarding deportation, Moore clarified that there is no established routine for deportation, and it remains an ongoing challenge.
He said the authorities are reliant on people who have been declined asylum to voluntarily leave the country, but if they choose not to comply, they may face arrest for violating the laws in place.
“Since 2008, 91% of all asylum claims made by Namibian nationals have been declined. When an asylum claim is declined, the UK government will ask that person to leave the country voluntarily because they’ve got no reason to stay there any longer and if they don’t leave, we can forcibly deport them,” said Moore.
The announcement of the visa regime has elicited a range of emotions, with some expressing concerns about the future relationship between the two countries.
However, Moore emphasised that the UK’s bond with Namibia remains warm and strong.
He stated that the decision to impose the visa regime was taken to safeguard the integrity of the UK’s migration systems and ultimately protect Namibia’s reputation.
“It is important to get that message across because Namibia‘s international reputation is really important to Namibia but also to us. So it is not doing Namibia’s international reputation much good if there are thousands of people turning up in a certain country claiming asylum and that they have been persecuted just for the purpose of getting into the country,” he noted.
Moore further emphasised that by working together, Namibia and the UK could enhance Namibia’s reputation and effectively discourage people from attempting to travel to the UK in search of employment.
He pointed out that many of these individuals cannot afford plane tickets and resort to taking out substantial loans or borrowing from family members.
In their pursuit of job opportunities in the UK, some even resort to selling their cattle and possessions, he said.
“The imposition of a visa regime is a standard international practice. You (Namibians) need visas for 127 countries around the world and that includes most of your international partners, such the United States, the European Union, Canada, Russia, China and Venezuela. You need visas for all those countries and so the fact that UK has been visa free it’s 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 further explained.
Moore also assured that the regime could be lifted if the influx of Namibian asylum-seekers reduces.
“Although that might be a long process,” he said.
Approached for a comment, the executive director in the ministry of international relations, Penda Naanda said since February, the two governments have been deliberating on the matter to find amicable solutions and since there has been a Cabinet committee established to look into the matter and ensure Namibians are not unfairly disadvantaged.
“We will continue engaging the British government because this is affecting everyone, not only ordinary passport holders but also diplomatic and official passport holders and so while the committee is deliberating on the next step, we will continue engaging the British government on this matter,” said Naanda.