Namibia hosted approximately 30,000 refugees and asylum seekers at the end of 2001, primarily from Angola. About 1,000 refugees from Congo-Kinshasa also lived in Namibia. Some 5,000 new refugees and asylum seekers arrived in the country during the year.

About 2,000 Namibians were refugees at year's end, many of them in Botswana.

Angolan Refugees: Protection Concerns

Angola's civil war has repeatedly spilled into northern Namibia in recent years, endangering local residents and intensifying suspicions among Namibian authorities that some asylum seekers in the border region were Angolan rebels or rebel supporters. A secessionist movement in northern Namibia added to the government's security concerns.

Civilians in northern Namibia – presumably including some refugees – were killed by Namibian government troops, Angolan government soldiers, and Angolan rebels in 2000 and again in 2001. Angolan rebels repeatedly abducted residents of the border zone. Namibian military patrols on the Namibia-Angola border reportedly prevented some would-be refugees from entering the country, and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) expressed alarm that a dusk-to-dawn government curfew in the border region might deter legitimate asylum seekers.

"While the general asylum climate in Namibia remains positive, incidents of discrimination and interventions by security forces have been creating protection problems," UNHCR reported in mid-2001. Government security personnel conducted numerous security sweeps, detaining and sometimes deporting Angolans, including genuine refugees, according to UNHCR. UNHCR managed to intervene in some cases to prevent deportations of asylum seekers.

Authorities arrested hundreds of refugees because, contrary to Namibian policy, they lived outside the country's designated refugee sites. UNHCR transferred 350 of these refugees to a camp in the first half of the year after gaining their release from prison. Some 80 Angolan asylum seekers remained in detention at year's end because Namibian authorities suspected them of being Angolan rebels guilty of committing atrocities in northern Namibia.

Despite the risks facing refugees in Namibia, an estimated 5,000 new Angolan refugees fled to the country during 2001 to evade their own civil war.

Angolan Refugees: Living Conditions

Nearly 20,000 Angolan refugees lived at Osire camp near the Namibian capital, Windhoek. An estimated 10,000 refugees and asylum seekers resided in northern Namibia, near the country's border with Angola, where they found shelter at two refugee transit centers and among local residents.

Occupants of Osire camp suffered from overcrowding, poor water quality, and food shortages. Aid workers temporarily cut refugees' food rations by 20 percent in response to World Food Program funding difficulties. Poor rainfall caused weak crop yields on farmland that was already insufficient to meet refugees' needs, compounding the food problems. The governments of Sweden and the United States provided much-needed aid in mid-year to restore full rations.

UNHCR acknowledged that health services at the camp were substandard and took steps to coordinate programs with a new health agency, adding more than 30 new health workers. Aid workers and refugee families expressed concern about the level of teenage pregnancies in Osire camp. The Namibian Red Cross indicated that it would cease its work at Osire camp at year's end because of poor funding.

Tensions between Angolan refugees and Namibian residents near Osire prompted government officials to consider moving the camp to a more remote location farther north. International relief agencies and donor nations opposed the expense of the proposed transfer and voiced concerns that a new camp would disrupt fragile hunter-gatherer tribes in northern Namibia. Residents in the north also opposed the plan, fearing that the refugee population might poach from local farms and bring health problems to the area. No camp transfer occurred during 2001.

The country's growing refugee population and ongoing refugee protection issues prompted UNHCR to add ten additional staff positions in Namibia and open new field offices in the north during 2001.

Refugees from Namibia

About 2,000 Namibians who fled the country in 1998 remained refugees at the end of 2001, primarily in Botswana. Most of the refugees were reportedly associated with a secessionist movement in northern Namibia.

About 600 refugees expressed an interest in returning to Namibia, and UNHCR conducted an assessment of repatriation conditions in the refugees' home region. However, no significant repatriation occurred during the year.


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