‘Our intention is to go back’

LONG WALK HOME … A group of Angolan mothers and children packed up and demanded to leave the National Youth Service centre at Ondangwa yesterday to set off to Angola on foot. Photos: Eliaser Ndeyanale

Angolan mothers, children insist on walking back home

With their luggage hoisted high above their heads and their babies on their backs, Angolan nationals at the National Youth Service (NYS) centre at Ondangwa yesterday declared their intent to walk back home.

The group of 73 people, mainly lactating mothers and children below the age of 10, have rejected being transported by vehicle.

One of the mothers, speaking for the group in the Mwila language, asked how their final wishes would be respected in Namibia should they die on Namibian soil.

The group expressed their concerns during a visit of the deputy minister of home affairs, immigration, safety and security, Lucia Witbooi, to the centre yesterday.

Police officers and guards from the NYS yesterday prevented the group from leaving. Witbooi said the group would be driven to the Namibia-Angola border when the Angolan government is ready to receive them.

The woman who spoke on behalf of the group, however, said the group declines this.

Some of the members of the group were taken to the NYS centre from Windhoek about a month ago.

They were selling wooden items, cooking spoons and knobkerries at the centre.

The group, belonging to the Mwila tribe, have been migrating to Namibia looking for food and better living conditions since the beginning of 2021.

Southern Angola at the time experienced poor rainfall for about four years, which resulted in water, crop and pasture shortages, as well as livestock losses.

Speaking through a translator yesterday, the woman speaking on behalf of the group said: “If we die here, where will our beads (in our hair) go? They are traditional items. If we go back to our country, we will not come back to Namibia. Our intention is to go back.”

Chrispin Kamwi from the Ministry of Home Affairs, Immigration, Safety and Security yesterday confirmed that the group moved to Namibia trying to survive. “According to the interviews we have conducted, they are here on an economic mission,” he said. Kamwi said some of the group members came from as far as Lubango.

He said the centre accommodated 200 people, but 127 have been taken to Angola as the centre only focuses on women and children. “Some had national documents and were taken back to their country,” Kamwi said. Witbooi yesterday told the media she was satisfied with the condition of the group members, as the Namibian government provided them with food.

She said the centre has running water, flushing toilets and showers.

“The food is prepared in a neat place. I can say with confidence I am happy with the conditions they live in here,” the deputy minister said.

Witbooi said the Namibian Cabinet has allocated a budget of N$2,3 million to upgrading and renovating the centre.

She said the Angolan government would inform Namibia when it is ready for the group to be repatriated.

Namibia’s home affairs ministry last week announced that Angolan children have been relocated to the Ondangwa NYS centre for care and to facilitate reunification with their families.

The ministry said the initiative aims to protect the welfare of children and address issues related to child labour.

The relocation is part of a broader effort to ensure the safety and well-being of vulnerable children in Namibia, it said in a statement. “The government is committed to safeguarding the rights of all children and ensuring they are provided with the necessary care and protection,” the ministry said.

A group of 1 300 Angolan nationals were repatriated from Etunda village in the Omusati region to Angola in January 2022.

Omusati governor Erginus Endjala said 18 babies born from Angolan nationals camping at Etunda died of malnutrition between April and December in 2021.

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