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Access to information for refugees and asylum seekers

2020-11-27  Staff Reporter

Access to information for refugees and asylum seekers

On the 13 December 2019, the New Era newspaper reported that the Namibian government turned away 42 desperate immigrants with refugees status issued by the South African government, this refugees fled South Africa as a result of a wave of xenophobic attacks. However, they were not recognized as asylum seekers by the Namibian government. 
The home affairs commissioner for refugees Likius Valombola told New Era “that the 42 foreign nationals were deported back to South Africa. He added that, the foreign nationals were illegal in the country because they did not go through legal procedures to seek asylum status. He also added that for a refugee to go to Osire, one has to be authorised. Any person-seeking asylum should report himself or herself to a police officer or immigration officer, then they will inform us to make arrangements to transport them to the settlement. If an asylum seeker goes to Osire without the required permit then they go there illegally”.

In other recent news, dated 13 October 2020, The Namibian newspaper reported that 53 people from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi were detained at the Katima Mulilo police station after they entered the country illegally. 
Police inspector general Sebastian Ndeitunga addressed the group, including 30 minors, who informed him they have fled their homes due to insecurity in their respective countries. 

However, in the above cases it is evident that access to information for asylum seekers seems inaccessible until the asylum seeker arrives in Namibia. As a result, the threat for detention increases for those seeking refugee status and asylum protection in Namibia, the need for clear policies on refugee rights and access to information is prevalent. Thus, the need to lunch a project based on refugees and asylum seekers is necessary, this project should be based on a goal to provide relevant information to the courageous men, women, and children who seek to live in a peaceful, safe and sustainable place.

So, why are people showing up at the Namibian borders? Most of the asylum seekers and refuges are fleeing from situations in their countries, which threaten their lives due to violence of some sort. Thus, making it very difficult to be safe, let alone build a future for their families and themselves. People have been fleeing from war prevalent countries for generations. Not to forget, in Namibia, the fight for freedom was not easy, and we too sought refuge in Angola and many other countries as well. What is new is that recently, there has been a spike in families, men, women and children, showing up at the Namibian border checkpoints presenting themselves to seek asylum. Let’s pump the panic mode break, it’s not time to panic, despite the global pandemic (Covid-19). The right to seek asylum stems from the 1951 Refugee Convention, which was the world’s response to the Holocaust and a way for countries to say, never again will we return people to places where they would be harmed or killed. The right of access to information project will work to ensure that refugees, asylum seekers, and the public have access to all the necessary, yet relevant information they need to make their stay in Namibia legally. Thus allowing them to become resourceful sustainable dwellers. Those brave enough to flee their homes and seek safety for themselves and their families follow in the footsteps of generations of refugees who have the potential of making our country flourish. Hence, this is why it is imperative for them to be offered safe refuge, access to information as well as opportunities to rebuild their lives in Namibia by the Namibians and not be left to languish behind bars or in an unsustainable area.

The Legal Assistance Centre further added that it receives many cases from the settlement and has observed that many refugees and asylum seekers struggle with the following human rights issues: A lack of freedom of movement, Insufficient health care within the settlement, gender based violence, delayed refugee status determination, lack of access to justice, right to family and/or to marry denied.

In an interview, the commissioner of refugees in Namibia said “refugees and asylum seekers who are found to be legal in Namibia have the same rights as a Namibian citizen, however, these rights are limited to the exclusion of some rights reserved just for Namibians. E.g. voting.” 

However, in terms of the right to liberty, the Namibia Refugee (Recognition and Control) Act 2 of 1999 section 20, sub-section (2) empowers the minister to restrict the free movement of an individual by issuing a written notice to that effect. 
Section 21 makes the contravention of section 20 a statutory criminal offence, punishable by imprisonment for a period not exceeding 90 days. It would therefore be a welcome progression in the human rights framework of Namibia if the reliance on the State’s reservation to the Refugee Convention should be abandoned, as it limits the rights for a refugee to move freely in Namibia. What then makes access to information for these refugees and asylum seekers so important? A well-informed refugee or asylum seeker can play a critical role in enabling organisations such as the Ministry of Home Affairs & Immigration to create and innovate effective policies that improve the quality of the services they provide, thus reducing the number of illegal immigrants or uninformed asylum seekers. They require timely and reliable information to make decisions about their next steps of the asylum seeker or refugee, to remain safe and meet their minimum survival needs without being detained. 

Most significantly, better access to information can promote self-reliance by broadening the opportunities for refugees and asylum seekers to improve their own lives thus creating a powerful multiplier, boosting the well-being of refugees, asylum seekers and of the communities that host them. In order to make this information more accessible and concrete, partnerships are key, between refugees and host communities, and between governments, civil society and the private sector. Therefore, providing this information on the ministry of home affairs website, or providing Information kits to asylum seekers in various languages, detailing the steps of an asylum seeker to obtain refugee status and what happens after as well as contain information with regards to their rights and legal expectations in Namibia.

Without access to up to date information on events back in their home countries as well as in their countries of asylum, refugees cannot access basic services such as health and education or make informed decisions on how to start improving their lives. A lack of information constrains the capacity of refugee communities to organize and empower themselves, cutting off the path to self-reliance. But it also constrains the kind of transformative innovation in national assistance at a time when such information has never been more necessary. A well informed refugee population would unleash great strength in communicating with displaced persons, responding to their security needs, and getting humanitarian services to them. It would improve their lives and transform humanitarian operations.
* This piece was written by the members of Frim Grotius, a group of 4th year law students from Unam, as part of our legal impact project. We focused on the rights of refugees in Namibia and aimed to end our project activities with a publication.

2020-11-27  Staff Reporter

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