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Refugee camp to be relocated

Country Map - Namibia (Windhoek) IRIN
Angolan and DRC refugees to be moved
Despite objections, the Namibian government is to go ahead with plans to relocate around 24,000 refugees to an ecologically sensitive district occupied by the hunter-gatherer San community. Home Affairs Minister Jerry Ekandjo said objections by donors who help feed the refugees, mainly from war-ravaged Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo, would not stop his government from moving the refugees at the Osire camp to M'kata. Osire is situated in central Namibia, 300 km north of Windhoek. However, a humanitarian source told IRIN on Monday that it was unlikely the government would begin the relocation immediately. "It's likely to be a long-term project, taking into consideration the costs involved, they have to meet the conditions of a feasibility study that was recently completed. The start up money alone would be US $10 million," the source said. Money that will be hard to find given the reservations of the donor community. M'kata is about 200 km east of Grootfontein and is inhabited by around 6,000 San people, who live a hunter-gatherer way of life. Ekandjo said Osire was built as a police detention camp before the country's independence and no feasibility study had been done. Recently, refugees at the camp have been accused of illegal activities such as poaching at neighbouring commercial farms. "We know that the donors are opposed to the move. I am planning a meeting between the donors and the farmers whose animals are being killed. Just because they [donors] give food, they can't have a final say. That is a cheap argument. We are going to move it [the camp]," Ekandjo said. The Namibian government announced that it planned to relocate the refugees last year. Environmentalists and the resident San community are worried that swamping M'kata with about 24,000 refugees would derail community-based game management projects. Water resources, already scarce, would also come under further strain. There are fears that the local bush will be destroyed, disrupting the San's food supplies. The community at M'kata depends heavily on the veld for game meat, tubers, wild nuts and berries. The Commissioner for Refugees in the Ministry of Home Affairs Elizabeth Negumbo said the international community had an obligation to assist host countries to maintain, protect and look after refugees. But the humanitarian source told IRIN that the same international community that was being asked to fund the relocation had voiced its concern for several reasons. "There's already investment at Osire that would be rendered useless in the event of relocation," the source said. "It would be very costly to establish a new camp. Donors have expressed concern that the area chosen is designated for a minority group and the rights of this minority group were supposed to be protected. Putting refugees there would mean the San would lose their hunter-gatherer lifestyle," the aid worker added. But government has been firm in its stance that Osire was not meant to be a permanent camp. The source said a major concern of the government was that "for security reasons the camp was too close to urban centres". There was also concern that the camp was being used for recruiting and other purposes by both sides in the Angolan conflict. On average about 300 refugees arrive at Osire every month with no decrease since the Angolan peace deal was signed in April.
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