October 9, 2002

Returnees Feel Pinch

Close to 600 members of the minority San tribe who were recently repatriated from Botswana to Namibia under a United Nations scheme are in dire need of food and shelter. The returnees are among some 3 000 Namibians who fled to Botswana after October 1998 following secessionist troubles in the Caprivi Region.

Those in need of food, water, shelter and access to health facilities are San returnees at Chetto, Omega 3 and Bwabwata in West Caprivi, say human rights monitors. The National Society for Human Rights (NSHR) said in a statement October 8, that the San are "forced to exclusively feed themselves on wild fruit, leaves, wild seeds and roots", while other vital social services, such as healthcare and education for their children, are reportedly non-existent. "The hardest hit by starvation are pregnant women, children and the elderly," the NSHR said. The rights organisation appealed to Government to "immediately address the situation affecting the said returnees".

The refugees were repatriated following a tripartite agreement involving Namibia, Botswana and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Under the agreement the returnees were to be provided with relief assistance, including adequate shelter, food, shelter, healthcare and education. They were also to be protected from human rights abuses of a civil, political, social, economic or cultural nature.

Some chiefs and other traditional authorities in the Caprivi recently appealed to Government to immediately dispatch relief aid to thousands of drought-stricken villagers in the Caprivi to prevent people from starving. Food is expected to be distributed to over 345 000 Namibians from today after the Emergency Management Unit (EMU), the Government's disaster management agency, invited tenders. (THE NAMIBIAN)

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