Friday February 7 2014

Uganda is honouring its refugee obligations

By Rose Namayanja Nsereko

The recent armed conflict in South Sudan saw an influx of refugees streaming into Uganda. While the main entry points have been Keri in Koboko and Elegu in Adjumani, some refugees have also accessed Uganda through Lamwo District. The Government of Uganda recognises and plays host to such persons fleeing South Sudan and other neighbouring countries in accordance with national, regional and international obligations on refugees.

Hosting refugees is consistent with the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees and its Protocol of 1967, the 1969 OAU Refugee Convention and the Refugee Act 2006 of Uganda. Uganda is signatory to both the 1951 UN Convention and its 1967 Protocol on Refugees and the 1969 Organiaation of Africa Unity (OAU) Refugee Convention relating to the protection of refugees. These protocols provide for fundamental principles like non-discrimination, non-penalisation and protection of refugees and ensuring minimum standards for their treatment. The 1969 OAU Refugee Convention also provides for among others, the principle of non-discrimination as to race, nationality and religion.

Uganda enacted the Refugee Act 2006, which guarantees refugees the right to move around the country and live within the Ugandan community, beyond gazetted refugee camps. As a result, some refugees have moved out of the camps and are engaged in economic activities and coexisting with Ugandans. The welfare of those in the camps is being managed by the Office of the Prime Minister, assisted by its partners.

Since the influx from South Sudan began, 8,755 refugees have been received through Keri in Koboko and are currently being settled at Rhino camp in Arua. A bigger number (38,332), however, came in through Elegu, bringing the number in Adjumani alone to 50,332. Some the refugees from South Sudan have moved directly to Kiryandongo Refugee Settlement where 7,162 have been received. A few are in Kampala and are being registered.

The neutralisation of the M23 rebellion reduced the influx of Congolese refugees through Kisoro to an average of 50 – 100 refugees per day. However, the government has again registered an influx of refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo through Bundibugyo District. This is as a result of post-rebellion internal conflicts amongst locals in areas previously occupied by the M23 rebels. The government’s emergency response mechanisms remain in place.
For Congolese refugees coming in through Bundibugyo, the situation has not improved because pockets of ADF rebels are still operating along the Beni – Kamango axis. On average, 100 – 200 refugees have been reporting at Bubukwanga Transit Centre over the last two weeks. Approximately 21,625 refugees have been received through Bundibugyo since the influx began in July 2013. There are also approximately 4,223 Congolese refugees settled in Koboko since December 2013.
Uganda’s hospitality to refugees is not new. In the past, we have hosted refugees from Rwanda, Burundi, the DRC, South Sudan, Somalia and Kenya following waves of conflict. Government created a whole ministry responsible for Disaster Preparedness and Refugees under the Office of the Prime Minister to strengthen its institutional capacity and resource mobilisation to cater for the welfare of refugees.

In collaboration with local authorities and humanitarian partners, the government is providing humanitarian assistance in form of food and non-food items, medical supplies, shelter and the basic education needs of the children as a response to the needs of refugees.
On the other hand, government has robust measures to ensure that Uganda is not infiltrated by wrong elements masquerading as refugees. Police and other security personnel are deployed to ensure law and order and general security. Our refugee host communities and the country at large should rest assured that government remains in full control of security.

The Office of the Prime Minister, the Ministry of Health, other departments of government and partners, including WHO, UNICEF and the relevant local authorities, have embarked on immunising all persons of 15 years and below against polio, measles and provision of vitamin A supplements. The immediate target beneficiaries for the exercise are refugees and the host communities, after which it will be extended to other areas in need.
The government commends all actors who have contributed to the emergency support initiative. Since refugees are still coming into Uganda, and the situation in DRC and South Sudan is still fluid, we appeal for more support, especially from the international community to buttress our capacity of dealing with the influx into the country.

Uganda will continue granting refugee status to foreign nationals who meet the criteria in accordance with national, regional and international instruments governing refugees. At the same time, government remains steadfast in its cardinal role of ensuring maximum protection of Ugandans citizens and our national interests.

Ms Namayanja Nsereko is the Minister of Information and National Guidance