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).