Botswana: Repatriating Eritreans Without Access to Asylum Procedure Would Violate International Law and Could Amount to Refoulement

Published: 16 Oct 2015

The International Refugee Rights Initiative expresses grave concern over reports that the government of Botswana
plans to repatriate ten Eritrean asylum seekers without ensuring access to refugee status determination procedures
and respect for the right to seek asylum and urges the government to respect its commitment to refugee rights and
its obligations under law, and to demonstrate that commitment through transparent due process for asylum
seekers in its territory.

The ten Eritreans, members of the Eritrean national football team, requested asylum after arriving in Botswana for
a World Cup qualifying match. Similar asylum claims have received state recognition of risk of persecution faced in
three preceding instances: in 2013, Uganda granted asylum to 15 Eritreans who claimed asylum while in the country
for a football match; in 2011, visiting Eritrean footballers applied for asylum in Tanzania and in 2009, Kenya allowed
the then Eritrean National football team asylum to apply for asylum.

According to the reports, Botswana’s Minister of Defence, Justice, and Security, Shaw Kgathi, dismissed the asylum
claimants request for protection, suggesting that the footballers were not a governmental concern, but rather a
FIFA concern, as they were visiting the country as footballers. However, under regional and international law,
Botswana has obliged itself to respect the right to seek asylum, as well as providing access to and protection
throughout refugee status determination procedures. International law makes clear that it is receiving governments
and not any other organisation that bears the primary responsibility for ensuring respect for the right to seek

Botswana is bound by both the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which it ratified in 1969, and
the 1969 OAU Convention Governing Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa, which it ratified in 1995. Both
provide protection against refoulement, which is the return to a territory where a refugee may face a risk of
persecution. International law makes clear that states have an obligation to allow access to asylum procedures and
that no refugee shall be removed by any means whatsoever, including denial of access to status determination

It is well documented that Eritrean asylum seekers are at risk if they return to Eritrea as demonstrated by the large
number of moratoria on returns, large and increasing numbers of Eritrean refugees registered with UNHCR, reports
of arbitrary and prolonged detention of deportees, and a “shoot to kill” policy in place for Eritreans attempting to
flee the country.

Programmes: Rights in Exile
Regions: Southern Africa, Botswana
Type: Library, Press Release