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REFUGEES: In Uganda need legal protection more than food aid

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CHANGE OF GUARDS – The revelation that foreign aid meant for refugees in Uganda has been stolen and that refugees are being mistreated has raised a lot of alarm.  Uganda is host to about a million and a half refugees from the neighboring countries with South Sudan and DRC topping the list.  The alleged irregularities include inflating the refugee figures, demanding money from refugees before they are received and registered and in order to access different services, faking documents for delivery of food and non-food items, trafficking of refugee women and girls, illegal repatriation/relocation, diverting scholarships meant for refugees to Ugandans and intimidation of UN staff.

The UNHCR has written to the government of Uganda to investigate the alleged fraud and corruption that has led to loss of huge amounts of donor funds.  The Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) has initiated a probe into the allegations after it suspended four top officers of the Refugee Department.  The OPM which houses the Refugee Department is the lead government agency that coordinates with UNHCR and other UN agencies together with other local and international NGOs in providing the necessary response to the management of refugees.

The country’s military dictator Gen. Yoweri Museveni has told the press that; “No body is supposed to take advantage of refugees.  I was also a refugee in Tanzania for eight years.  Providing for refugees is not a favour because international law guarantees protection of people unsafe at their homes.  Those found culpable will face the full wrath of the law.  God will punish those who steal from the under privileged.  Refugees are very important to Uganda not only for compassion purposes to them but for many other importances that the country benefits from.”

Parliament has also asked the OPM to come clean over the alleged creation of ‘ghost refugees’ (non-existing).  It has gone further to suggest that the Refugee Department should move away from the fraud prone OPM.  The Refugee Act 2006 places the Refugee Department under the OPM. Though the department is under the OPM just for resources mobilization and management, the behind the curtains key players are from the Ministries of Internal Affairs and Security (Immigration officers, Intelligence Officers and the police).  These remote key players include some officers structurally under the OPM but working for the mentioned agencies hence the alleged “intimidation of UN staff” in the name of security.

We have repeatedly argued and now history is exonerating us that dictator Museveni’s major interest in initiating a liberal refugee policy was to attract donor funding. We have authored a number of articles and among them the filling:

  1. UGANDA’S LIBERAL REFUGEE POLICY FROM A SECURITY PERSPECTIVE – 9/10/2015.  We examined the law, policy and practice in refugee management.

Indeed, since then the number of refugees fleeing the area into Uganda has reached alarming proportions.

  1. TUMUKUNDE/KALEKYEZI POWER STRUGGLE THREATENS MUSEVENI’S REFUGEE “DOLLAR” SCHEME – 14/7/2017. We highlighted the alleged kidnapping and forceful return of Rwandese refugees by Security officers.

In July 2017 Museveni hosted a global Refugee Solidarity Summit that was attended by, among others,  the UN Secretary General where hundreds of millions of US $ in form of cash and pledges were raised.  Many traditional donor countries generously made financial contributions.  It is this aid that has been swindled.  It was wrong for the donor community to entrust Museveni with such huge funding without appropriate background check.  Such a measure would have revealed that the Museveni regime is corrupt to the core and has no regard for the well being of its own citizens hence can not care about the well being of refugees.  The same donor community, the UN and its agencies kept mum when the Museveni regime was repeatedly violating the security of refugees through killing, maiming, kidnappings and forced returns to persecuting home countries.

In July 2010 the regime forcefully returned to Rwanda 1,700 Hutu refugees.  The violent exercise in Kyaka and Nakivaale Refugee Camps by security forces left two dead and more than 25 seriously injured.  In December 2011 a Rwandese refugee Journalist Charles Ingabire was shot dead in Kampala by suspected Rwandese state agents in connivance with their Ugandan counterparts.  Around the same time a number of Rwandese refugees were kidnapped while others were subjected into forced disappearance.  Some others have been traced to detention in Rwanda.

At the time the then head of JATT Col. Abel Kandiho (current CMI), Col. Geoffrey Buryo of CMI and the First Son Gen. Muhoozi Keinerugaba were implicated in the kidnap of Rwandese refugees.  In August 2013 the Police attempted to forcefully return a high-profile Rwandese Refugee and former Bodyguard to Kagame, Joel Mutabazi.  He was only rescued as he was about to be bundled into the Kigali bound place.  The regime did not provide security to vulnerable Mutabazi and three months later the Police in connivance with agents of the Rwanda government managed to kidnap him back to Rwanda.

In 2013 Col. Fenekasi Mugyenyi kidnapped a Congolese refugee Col. Eric from Kampala only to be  rescued as he was about to be handed over to the Congolese authorities at the border in West Nile region.  Col. Fenekasi Mugyenyi was only charged with misconduct before the Court Martial instead of kidnap but the charges were later dropped.  In June 2017 an agent of the South Sudan government was shot by the army around Ghbari border village in Yumbe district as he was suspected to have come to harm South Sudanese refugees.  In July 2017 armed men suspected to be agents of South Sudan attempt to grab South Sudan refugees was foiled after they succeeded in taking only two refugees.

In October 2017, unidentified gunmen raided Rwandese and Burundian refugees in Nakivale refugee settlement camp killing a 14 years old boy and seriously injuring another seven people.  In December 2017 Jacob Gale – a Member of Parliament South Sudan’s Yei Rive State Transitional Legislative Assembly was shot dead in Uganda’s Moyo district.  The M.P was part of a delegation sent by the South Sudan National Peace Committee to visit refugee camps in Uganda to give hope to refugees of a possible return to South Sudan.   Usually such foreign delegations are cleared and secured by the host government.  It is most likely that the envoy was shot by those who did not want to see refugees going back to South Sudan.  Two weeks earlier two refugees had been beheaded in Moyo by unidentified assailants.

It was only recently when the bickering over power and control of resources amongst top security managers that the issue of kidnapping of Rwandese refugees came up just as a way of pinning one of the parties.  Consequently a few police officers were arrested but why did it take four years????

From the foregoing, it can be authoritatively argued that it was inhuman for both the Museveni regime, the UNHCR, the UN and its other agencies to have kept silent over kidnappings and killings.  It is hypocritical for the same entities to now pretend that they care much about the theft of refugee aid than the security and legal protection of the same refugees.  It is as if these refugees fled their countries in search of food and economic survival instead of safety.

The Museveni regime is reputed for creation of ghost soldiers, ghost civil servants, ghost pensioners, ghost investors, ghost infrastructure projects etc.  Inflation of refugee figures to attract donor funding was long overdue.  The regime stole billions of donor funds meant for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the insurgency hit northern Uganda.  What about the fact that it is the same regime’s military expeditions in the region that is responsible for the influx of those refugees!!!  Find out the profiles of the individuals who have been behind the supply of food and non-food items and other services to these refugee agencies and you will find it is the usual wolves.  You recall when local refugee hosting communities protested over unfair recruitment of workers whereby most were being ferried from the western region.

Whatever the case, the irregularities will persist because the international community has deliberately refused to address the root cause of the refugee influx into Uganda.


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