*Refugees stranded inside Francistown Centre for Illegal Immigrants
*Govt defies court ruling ordering their release
In an ugly twist to the drawn-out legal battle between the government and Human Rights lawyer Morgan Moseki, leaked photos from the Gerald Centre for Illegal Immigrants appear to show a number of asylum seekers living in inhumane conditions.
The damning pictures suggest the government have defied a High Court ruling, passed on the 14th of July, ordering the immediate release of 165 failed asylum seekers incarcerated at the Francistown-based centre.
The majority of the 165 foreign nationals – whose asylum application was rejected by government – remain confined within the Gerald camp, reduced to living like squatters.
The photos depict families, including minors, huddled together in flimsy, makeshift shelters erected on the concrete floors of the notorious institution.
According to Moseki, who is the asylum seekers’ legal representative and has unlimited access to the condemned foreign legion, their nightmare worsened after the High Court ruled in their favour.
“Government released them from their cells but kept the gates under lock. Now these people sleep in an open space with nothing to keep them warm.
“A day after court ordered their immediate release it rained and these defenceless people and their children had to brave the icy fall and a night on concrete,” revealed Moseki.
The Human Rights activist accused the Botswana government of ‘xenophobic tendencies’ in its handling of the issue.
“The government has lied to the public; they have manufactured stories that some of the released asylum seekers have left the Dukwi Refugee camp and cannot be traced. That is a lie. The court order never said these people should be taken to Dukwi, it said they should be released, so most of these people left,” he blasted.
Moseki claimed that government seem determined to ‘break the asylum seekers into submission’ by denying them basic amenities like food and shelter.
“There were people who attempted to feed these asylum seekers from outside but government has since stopped that – instead they are now being fed leftovers,” he said.
Warning that the government’s actions were setting a dangerous precedent, Moseki added angrily, “We have a government that does not respect its own courts. We are slowly becoming a banana republic where a government can defy a court order!”
The fiery lawyer further said the asylum seekers are guarded around the clock by armed guards.
“Imagine that these people were granted their freedom by a court of law but they are now being kept under lock and key by the same government, facing the barrel of a gun night and day. All these people have received letters asking them to see a nearest immigration officer to regularise their stay in Botswana. How do they do that when they are under lock and key?” demanded Moseki.
Earlier in July, government, through law firm Collins Newman and Co, applied for a stay of execution pending appeal – an application that was promptly dismissed.
In the application, Director of Refugee Management in the Ministry of Justice, Defence and Security, Thobo Letlhage unsuccessfully argued that the original judgement was wrong.
He stressed that there was limited accommodation at the Dukwi camp.
Letlhage stated that there are no toilets or sanitation facilities at the camp to accommodate or meet the requirements of such a large number of people.
“It doesn’t make sense. What the Director is saying is people living under lock and key in Gerald are better off than people in Dukwi,” said Moseki.
Despite the pictorial evidence, the Ministry has rubbished claims that asylum seekers are living in appalling conditions at Gerald.
Principal Public Relations Officer, Samma Tabudi, insisted the government provides the rejected asylum seekers with three cooked meals daily whose ‘quality and portions are adequate and in compliance with daily nutritional requirements’.
“We are informed that some of them decline to eat meals prepared for them,” she said in a response to a questionnaire.
She further said whenever there is overcrowding, mounted marque tents on cement slabs are used for temporary accommodation.
“The Ministry of Defence, Justice and Security has taken note of numerous newspaper articles, which in our view feature sensational and misleading stories targeting the management of refugees and asylum seekers by the Government of Botswana. The articles are unfounded, misleading and inflammatory and in our view meant to cause unnecessary confusion and disorder in the public domain,” she said.