23 August 2022
Following its recent visit to Botswana, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) expressed serious concerns regarding the country’s punitive approach towards refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants. Having visited two detention sites, the Working Group urged Botswanan authorities to revise its policies to ensure that immigration detention is used as an exception, for the shortest period of time, and following an individualised assessment of the need to detain. The UN body also urged the country to improve detention conditions and cease the detention of children and families.
After its visit to the Francistown Centre for Illegal Immigrants—a detention centre that closely resembles a prison and is staffed by prison officers—the WGAD noted:
“[Detainees’] desperate plight was plain to see. The Group was appalled by their conditions of detention, with lock-up time around 4:30 pm when people are confined to the blocks. There are no purposeful activities and provision for children, especially in relation to education, is lacking. There were numerous credible accounts of widespread violence, including sexual violence involving children.”
To assist the Working Group during preparations for its visit to Botswana, the GDP and South Africa-based Lawyers for Human Rights issued a joint submission highlighting immigration detention concerns in the country. The joint submission, which also benefitted from information and assistance from Bosa Bosele Training College and Skillshare Botswana, highlighted how the country’s treatment of detained non-nationals violates norms provided in international human rights treaties, which were reiterated in the WGAD’s 2018 Revised Deliberation No. 5 on the deprivation of liberty of migrants. Many of the concerns highlighted in this joint submission are included in the Working Group’s Preliminary Findings.
In response to these findings, Lawyers for Human Rights’ Nabeelah Mia said: “The conditions in which refugees and migrants are confined in Botswana are not in accordance with human rights’ standards. We are pleased to see the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention repeating our concerns and suggestions, and sincerely hope that the country urgently follows the Working Group’s recommendations to ensure respect for the rights of non-nationals.”
- OHCHR, “Botswana Must Urgently Embrace Further Safeguards Against Arbitrary Detention For All – UN Experts,” 15 July 2022, https://www.ohchr.org/en/press-releases/2022/07/botswana-must-urgently-embrace-further-safeguards-against-arbitrary#:~:text=GABORONE%20(15%20July%202022)%20%E2%80%93,a%20visit%20to%20the%20country
- Global Detention Project and Lawyers for Human Rights, “Botswana: Submission to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention,” 27 June 2022, https://www.globaldetentionproject.org/botswana-submission-to-the-un-working-group-on-arbitrary-detention
- Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, “Revised Deliberation No. 5 on Deprivation of liberty of migrants, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention,” 2018, https://www.ohchr.org/sites/default/files/Documents/Issues/Detention/RevisedDeliberation_AdvanceEditedVersion.pdf
01 July 2022
In June 2022, the Global Detention Project (GDP) and Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) issued a joint-submission to the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in preparation for its mission to Botswana from 4-15 July 2022 concerning issues related to immigration detention in Botswana. The submission highlights the gaps in the country’s national refugee legislation, lack of ratification of key international human rights treaties, and problems in the two main sites of deprivation of liberty of migrants and refugees--the Francistown Centre for Illegal Immigrants and Dukwi Refugee Camp.
The GDP and LHR encouraged the Working Group to make several recommendations, including: (a) “Prioritise the finalising of its new Refugee Bill and ensure that it is compliant with its legal obligations under international human rights law…”; (b) “Ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment”; (c) “Ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and Their Families”; (d) “Withdraw the reservation to Article 7 of the Convention against Torture concerning the prohibition against torture”; and (e) “Ensure that the conditions of detention meet the highest possible standards and that people in any form of migration detention - including at the Francistown Centre for Illegal Immigrants and the Dukwi Refugee Camp - received equal access to healthcare as the rest of society.”
The submission also brings attention to a number of reported allegations of serious abuse and poor conditions in Francistown maximum security prison and the Francistown Centre for Illegal Immigrants. There have been reports of murder and rape, including of children, as well as lack of access to adequate healthcare, and violent suppressions of protests by operatives, including instigators being sent to Francistown maximum security prison.
In 2021, a fire damaged the Francistown Prison, resulting in some prisoners being held in the Centre for Illegal Immigrants (FCII) in separate areas from asylum seekers and migrants. It was also reported that during 2021, the Francistown Prison was used as a COVID-19 quarantine centre for new inmates on remand before being transferred to the FCII, with FCII holding prisoners, asylum seekers and migrants. On 24 July 2021, 100 detainees out of around 300 tested positive for COVID-19, posing a serious danger to other prisoners as the FCII is overcrowded.
According to UNHCR data, there were 617 refugees and 422 asylum seekers in the country in 2020; in 2021, there were 688 refugees and 58 asylum seekers. While Botswana is a signatory to the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, it maintains a number of reservations to both the Convention and the Protocol, including a reservation to Article 7 on reciprocity. In effect, this means that Botswana is not obliged to offer refugees the same treatment that is accorded generally to non-citizens that are in Botswana. The country has also made a reservation to Article 31, prohibiting the imposition of penalties on refugees unlawfully in the country of refuge, as well as Article 32, which prohibits the expulsion of refugees except on grounds of national security or public order.
- Global Detention Project & Lawyers for Human Rights, "Joint-Submission to the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in Preparation for Its Mission to Botswana from 4-15 July 2022," June 2022, https://www.globaldetentionproject.org/botswana-submission-to-the-un-working-group-on-arbitrary-detention
- United States Department of State, “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Botswana 2020,” 2021, https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/BOTSWANA-2020-HUMAN-RIGHTS-REPORT.pdf
- L. Mosikare, “COVID-19 Hits F/Town Prison, Paralyses Justice System,” The Monitor, 2 August 2021, https://www.pressreader.com/botswana/the-monitor-4753/20210802/281569473771837
- N. Ntibinyane, “Prison of Injustice,” Mail & Guardian, 5 January 2018, https://mg.co.za/article/2018-01-05-prisoners-of-injustice/
- UNHCR, “Refugee Data Finder: Botswana,” accessed on 1 July 2022, https://www.unhcr.org/refugee-statistics/
- Nursery School at the Dukwi Refugee Camp (A. Bouvier, "ICRC Audiovisual Archives: Reference V-P-BW-E-00012," 15 March 2011, https://avarchives.icrc.org/Picture/108610)
02 September 2020
Botswana, which has long operated a “Centre for Illegal Migrants” at Francistown near the border with Zimbabwe and a refugee camp in Dukwi, has struggled in its response to the Covid-19 pandemic, repeatedly shutting down various regions of the country as cases have spread. While there appears to be little public information about whether measures were implemented at the Centre for Illegal Migrants to prevent the spread of the infection, UNHCR has provided some details about the situation at the Dukwi camp. The UN refugee agency reports that since 1 April, more than 1,000 of refugees living in the camp have “benefited from risk communication and upgraded health and sanitation systems, in line with the international guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19.” There has also been some information about Covid-19 response in prisons. Prison visits were suspended on 24 March and resumed on 1 June. According to one press account, when she announced the resumption of some services at prisons, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Defence, Justice, and Security Matshidiso Bokole said that although “prison visits would commence” they would be “restricted to one visitor per prisoner per day for remands and illegal immigrants, while convicts would be allowed one visitor per month” (Botswana Daily News, 1 June 2020). The government announced the release of more than a hundred prisoners in mid April. A month later, 15 Zimbabwean prisoners were released and deported to Zimbabwe. During a 24 July 2020 press conference, the prison commission said that currently there were “3,729 inmates and two kids, against the prisons’ holding capacity of 4,337 and this gave an under crowding status of 14 per cent, which enabled them to observe the Covid-19 safety regulations” (Botswana Daily News, 26 July 2020).
- Daily News, “Defence ministry resumes all services - Bokole,” 1 June 2020, http://www.dailynews.gov.bw/news-details.php?nid=56461
- Daily News, Local prisons COVID-19 compliant, 26 July 2020, http://www.dailynews.gov.bw/news-details.php?nid=57359
- Prison Insider, “Botswana,” 1 June 2020, https://www.prison-insider.com/en/articles/afrique-coronavirus-la-fievre-des-prisons#botswana-5e909e239dbe3
- M. Mazimpaka, “Botswana Pardons 15 Zimbabwean Prisoners Amid #COVID-19,” Taarifa, 15 May 2020, https://taarifa.rw/botswana-pardons-15-zimbabwean-prisoners-amid-covid-19/
- BOPA, “President Masisi to Release 113 Prisoners,” Daily News, 12 April 2020, http://www.dailynews.gov.bw/news-details.php?nid=55592
- UNHCR, “South Africa Multi-Country Office / Apr-Jun 2020,” 30 July 2020, https://reliefweb.int/report/south-africa/unhcr-fact-sheet-south-africa-multi-country-office-april-june-2020
- M. Dube, “Botswana Lifts Lockdown in Capital Despite Worrying Rise in COVID-19 Cases,” Voa News, 15 August 2020, https://www.voanews.com/covid-19-pandemic/botswana-lifts-lockdown-capital-despite-worrying-rise-covid-19-cases
- ECRE, “Botswana Begins Deportations of Refugees from Namibia,” Relief Web, 20 September 2019, https://reliefweb.int/report/botswana/botswana-begins-deportations-refugees-namibia
- Global Detention Project, Immigration Detention in Botswana, June 2009, https://www.globaldetentionproject.org/countries/africa/botswana#country-report
- Gerald Estates Centre for Illegal Immigrants, Google Maps, accessed on 2 September 2020, http://tiny.cc/tz7rsz
Last updated: June 2009
Botswana Immigration Detention Profile
Botswana has traditionally been considered a welcoming country for immigrants, attracting skilled workers from neighbouring countries. However, since the early 2000s, there have been growing tensions as the number of immigrants from Zimbabwe has risen precipitously. By 2004, the country was deporting some 2,500 irregular Zimbabweans per month. The government also began implementing harsher legal penalties, including larger fines and the possibility of prison sentences for irregular immigrants (Ditshwanelo 2006).
Botswana has one official migrant detention facility, the Centre for Illegal Immigrants, which is located in Francistown, a city close to the Zimbabwe border. The centre, which is under the authority of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, had a capacity of 500 as of 2006, with separate cell blocks and dining halls for males and females, a kitchen, clinic, library, sports facilities and a multi-purpose hall (Campbell 2006, 14). Locals refer to this facility as “Teronko ya Ma Zimbabwe,” or a prison facility for Zimbabweans, as the majority of detainees are of Zimbabwean origin (Gabathuse 2008).
Non-governmental sources have alleged that Botswana’s detention practices violate human rights standards, in particular its practices of detaining asylum seekers and keeping people confined for excessively long periods of time. According to Ditshwanelo, a Zimbabwe NGO, there are cases in which asylum seekers have been detained at the Francistown centre while the Refugee Advisory Committee determines their status, which can take up to 3-4 years, well beyond the 28-day limit stipulated in the Refugee (Recognition and Control) Act (Ditshwanelo 2006, 17-18).
Media reports claim that asylum seekers from Zimbabwe are held in marquee tents at the Francistown centre while their applications are processed (Gabathuse 2008). Successful applicants are moved to the Dukwi Refugee Camp (U.S. State Department 2006), while unsuccessful applicants lose the protective refugee status, have no access to an appeal, and are considered to be illegal immigrants (Ditshwanelo 2006, 17). Children are detained with their parents and do not have access to schools or recreation facilities at the Francistown centre. The centre is administered to under provisions in the Prisons Act and the general prison code. According to Ditshwanelo, detained asylum seekers have been clad in leg-irons when taken to the hospital outside the detention compound (Ditshwanelo 2006, 17).
- Africa News. 2007. “Botswana Urged to Give Better Treatment to Refugees”. Africa News. 3 July 2007.
- Government of Botswana. 2005. Reports submitted by States parties under Article 9 of the Convention. Sixteenth periodic reports of States parties due in 2005: Addendum: Botswana. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD). CERD/C/495/Add.1. 2 September 2005. http://tb.ohchr.org/default.aspx (accessed February 2009).
- Ditshwanelo – the Botswana Centre for Human Rights. 2006. Shadow Report to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination 68th session. Ditshwanelo. Geneva. 3-6 March 2006.
- Campbell, Euguene K. 2006. Reflections on Illegal Immigration in Botswana and South Africa. Department of Population Studies, University of Botswana. Gaborone, Botswana.
- Gabathuse, R. 2008. "Centre for illegal immigrants". Mmegi Online. Vol. 25, No. 68. Friday 9 May 2008. www.mmegi.bw (accessed February 2009).
- South African Migration Project (SAMP) website. Botswana. South African Migration Project (SAMP) - Queens University. January 2007. http://www.queensu.ca/samp/migrationnews/article.php?Mig_News_ID=4328&Mig_News_Issue=25&Mig_News_Cat=3 (accessed 8 December 2008).
- Government of Botswana. Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs website. The Government of Botswana. http://www.gov.bw/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=30&Itemid=40 (accessed February 2009).
- UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). 2008. Statistical Yearbook 2007. UNHCR. December 2008.
- U.S. State Department. 2006. Botswana: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. U.S. State Department, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. 6 March 2007. www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2006/78720.htm (accessed 18 June 2007).