Monday February 24 2014

Government must screen all refugees

By Editorial

At the height of the influx of South Sudanese refugees into Uganda last month, it was reported that some refugees crossed into Uganda with bullets and army uniforms. Others, as incidents of violence in refugee camps indicated, could have easy access to other basic tools of violence.

The reports followed a flare-up of tribal clashes in refugee camps between the two major ethnic groups of Dinka and Nuer. Given that the two tribes have had deep-rooted divisions; and the war between South Sudan President Salva Kiir’s, a Dinka, and Dr Riek Machar, a Nuer, has had ethnic undertones and worrying tales of mass ethnic killings, precautionary measures are important to guarantee the security of both refugees and indigenous communities.

It is, therefore, surprising that almost two months after similar security concerns were raised, Kiryandongo – a district hosting about 10,000 South Sudanese refugees – is asking the government to screen the refugees in the district because there are fears that some of them could be armed.

According Saturday Monitor, Kiryandongo District chairperson Ben Moro said many refugees are escaping from the camp where they were resettled. Residents are worried that some of them could be a source of insecurity.

While we recognise that the refugees are innocent victims of war, there is a precedent to justify security concerns. Just last week, it was reported that refugees in Ocea in Rhino Camp and Waju in Lobule Sub-county in Koboko District, clashed with indigenous communities at water points and health centres. There are reports that some refugees do not want to share the available resources with locals, and cases of animosity over land acquisition by refugees have also been reported.

These cases, while isolated, should not be ignored if we are to avoid a potentially dangerous situation. When tribal clashes between South Sudanese refugees in Elegu camp in Amuru District and in Dzaipi, Adjumani District, were first reported early last month, police and local leaders embarked on community policing and sensitisation on co-existence.

Whereas the situation in refugee camps across the country is generally stable, incidents of clashes and security concerns require close monitoring and delicate approach. It is important that the refugees abide by the guidelines that govern their stay in Uganda as well as the laws of this country.