How Uganda’s open-door refugee policy is abused

Thursday June 21 2018

State of Congolese refugees Uganda

Congolese refugees line up for food upon arrival in Hoima district. PHOTO BY FRANCIS MUGERWA 

By FREDERIC MUSISI

Kampala.

As Uganda basks in the adulation of the international community with its liberal refugee policy, one thing that is seldom talked about is that there are several loopholes in the system which are being exploited to the maximum limit by unscrupulous individuals.
Investigations by this newspaper show that some Ugandans and other nationalities are buying asylum to other countries after being registered as refugees in Uganda, while scores of “economic migrants” are sneaking into the country and registered as refugees.
Daily Monitor has also seen intelligence briefings warning about the growing numbers of “illegal migrants” mainly from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Pakistan, South Sudan and Somalia.
One brief shared with the now embattled former Inspector General of Police, Gen Kale Kayihura last year, notes that the refugees are driven by among others, the stability of the country, favourable investment climate, corruption by immigration law enforcement officers, and weaknesses within Uganda’s legal framework, as well as weak enforcement of visa regime and work permit loopholes.
When these asylum seekers are rejected, the brief indicates, they are supposed to be deported back to their respective countries of origin, but instead they continue staying and working in Kampala illegally under the cover of being refugees while they are not.
Another Internal Security Organisation (ISO) brief indicates that other illegal immigrants enter into the country under the visa regime “where they comes as visitors, tourists and students and upon arrival in Uganda, they do not renew their visas and end up staying and working in Uganda illegally.”
The security briefs indicate that the “illegal immigrants” have not only become a security, social and economic burden to the country but have also compromised national security, get involved in trans boundary crimes like human and drug trafficking, cyber related crimes, competition for service delivery to citizens, and some are involved in money laundering, mostly Somalis and South Sudanese.
“Uganda is not only a beautiful country but we also know it is where one can live peacefully and safely as long as they don’t engage in politics,” one senior government official told this newspaper on condition of anonymity to freely share and discuss the intelligence briefs.
The official said matters are made worse by the porous borders, where people walk in-and-out freely.
President Museveni, the chief proponent of the open-door policy, often argues that he does not pay attention to the colonial borders “which some actors, oblivious of the higher African interest, fetishize as if they were made by God.”
State minister for Relief and Disaster Preparedness Musa Ecweru told Daily Monitor in an interview that “it is indeed a big challenge but we are trying to strengthen our systems.”
“Uganda remains committed to its open door policy because these are our brothers and sisters,” Mr Ecweru added.
The other fact that UNHCR and other aid agencies don’t want to admit, but according to the Oxford Centre for Refugee Studies, is “when displacement has been prolonged, many refugees have become established in their new place of settlement and their desire or willingness to return may diminish.” In short, refugees who spend a decade or more outside their countries of origin rarely accept to repatriate.

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