Namibia hosted approximately 20,000 refugees and asylum seekers at the end of 2000, primarily from Angola.

About 2,000 Namibians were refugees at year's end. Most lived in neighboring Botswana.

Violence in Namibia

Angola's ongoing civil war spilled into northern Namibia's border region during 2000, creating security problems for local residents and for refugees and asylum seekers living there. Some 1,000 Namibians fled the country during the year.

Security in northern Namibia deteriorated dramatically in December 1999 after the Namibian government allowed Angolan government troops to operate on Namibian soil in pursuit of Angolan rebels. As a result, local residents in Namibia's border zone during 2000 regularly suffered abuses at the hands of undisciplined Angolan and Namibian government troops, as well as retaliatory attacks by Angolan rebels against Namibian villagers.

Angolan soldiers looted, raped, beat, abducted, and forcibly conscripted Namibian civilians. Angolan rebels raided border villages for food and cattle, and were largely responsible for planting new landmines that seriously injured more than 100 Namibian civilians in the first half of the year. Violence along the border killed 70 people in the first nine months of the year and temporarily displaced unknown numbers of families. Many families in remote border villages slept in the bush each night because they feared attacks on their homes.

"A situation of total confusion prevails along the border," a UN official stated in August. A high-ranking Namibian official acknowledged that "Namibia's security needs are at their highest since independence." The International Committee of the Red Cross established a permanent office in Namibia late in the year to assist Namibians affected by the mounting insecurity.

Among the 1,000 Namibians who fled to Botswana were some families who had repatriated from Botswana to Namibia only a year earlier.

Refugees from Angola

The number of Angolan refugees in Namibia nearly doubled to 20,000 during the year, as Angola's long civil war dragged on and fighting intensified near the Angola-Namibia border.

At least 11,000 Angolan refugees lived at Namibia's Osire refugee camp, according to a census conducted by the World Food Program. Some sources stated that as many as 16,000 Angolans lived at the camp, located about 450 miles (750 km) from the Namibia-Angola border. Several thousand unregistered Angolan refugees lived in the border region despite the dangers there.

New refugees arrived at a relentless rate throughout the year: about 100 arrivals per week in May, some 300 per week in June, and more than 200 per week during September and October. Aid workers transported the new refugees the long distance from the border to Osire camp, which gradually became overcrowded. Namibian officials and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) considered constructing a new refugee camp as the year ended.

Humanitarian agencies struggled to cope with the growing refugee population. UNHCR asked international donors to help double its budget in Namibia to $3.4 million. UNHCR attempted to alleviate overcrowding at Osire camp by digging more than 500 new latrines, 30 new boreholes for drinking water, and distributing material so that refugees could construct new or makeshift shelters.

Despite the expansion, the overcrowded camp provided 20 percent fewer latrines than basic health standards normally require, and 4,000 refugees lacked adequate shelter, the International Federation of the Red Cross reported late in the year. The overcrowded conditions forced many new arrivals to sleep in classrooms or in large communal tents with virtually no privacy.

Health conditions among the refugee population were "generally satisfactory, [but] there are indications that malnutrition may be increasing," the World Food Program (WFP) reported in December. WFP provided food to Osire camp. The camp offered virtually no opportunities for farming, leaving the refugee population completely dependent on food aid.

UNHCR provided cooking utensils, stoves, mattresses, and blankets against the camp's sub-freezing nighttime temperatures. The camp's health clinic functioned without a doctor, UNHCR reported. Nearly 2,000 refugee students attended primary school in Osire camp, despite the availability of only 27 teachers. Some 500 students attended local secondary schools. The refugee population began construction of 13 new classrooms with materials donated by the Namibian Red Cross.

Refugee Protection Concerns

Namibia's worsening security problems during 2000 affected Angolan refugees and asylum seekers. UNHCR acknowledged that conditions in Namibia "posed serious protection challenges" for refugees and complained that budget shortfalls prevented UNHCR from deploying adequate protection staff to Namibia's border area where alleged abuses against refugees and asylum seekers were most severe.

Security sweeps in border areas by Namibian and Angolan government troops often targeted Angolan refugees, including many who have lived in Namibia for more than a decade and had become integrated into local communities. Namibian officials suspected that many Angolan nationals living in the border zone were collaborating with Angolan rebels who periodically raided Namibian villages. Namibian authorities charged that armed rebel soldiers often used Namibia as a safe haven by posing as refugees.

"Any Angolan national found to be promoting [Angolan rebel] activities in Namibia will be regarded as an enemy of the citizens of this country," an official of Namibia's ruling party stated.

A local newspaper quoted what it called an internal UNHCR study that accused Namibian security personnel of abusing Angolan refugees and asylum seekers, including beatings, forced repatriations to Angola, and deliberate separation of families.

A local press report stated that authorities deported 700 people from Namibia in the first quarter of the year. A government official characterized the deportations as routine immigration control. Deportations continued throughout the year. The number of asylum seekers and bona-fide refugees expelled among the deportees remained unknown.

"Namibian authorities appear to have breached both national and international law, including the UN Refugee Convention, in their manner of dealing with refugees fleeing the fighting in Angola," an Amnesty International report concluded in March.

Namibian authorities and UNHCR reached an agreement that would allow an independent interview of Angolan asylum claimants before the government would decide their refugee status. The government delayed deportation of some 80 Angolans late in the year so that UNHCR could examine their individual cases.

Ethnic tensions at Osire refugee camp posed occasional protection concerns. Violence between ethnic Ovimbundu Angolan refugees and ethnic Ngangelas refugees during a camp soccer game hospitalized five refugees in September. Two residents of Osire reportedly set their tent shelters ablaze to dramatize their desire for permanent resettlement abroad.


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