Several South Sudanese refugees in Palabek settlement in Lamwo District, northern Uganda, are reportedly sneaking back home illegally.
The return of refugees is supposed to be guided by a Tripartite Agreement, a legal bilateral framework setting out the modalities for the voluntary return of refugees to their country of origin in safety and dignity.
Over 40,000 South Sudanese refugees have sought safety in Uganda since 2017 citing fears of fresh armed insurgence, hunger, sexual and physical violence and forced recruitment of children among other reasons.
The Lokung East sub county LC 3 Chairperson, Mr David Ocan Kasisi told this reporter that eye witnesses have reliably informed them that some refugees sneak out through the porous border points at Waligo and Ngomoromo to carry out farming in South Sudan.
“The refugees are also reportedly collaborating with Sudanese People’s Liberation Army – SPLA in opposition who sometimes threaten peace, stability and security of Lamwo households along the boundary,” he said.
Mr Robert Ocan, the Palabek Camp chairperson confirmed to this reporter in a phone interview that some refugees sneak for fear of having their refugee status revoked to maintain their homes and do farming since the land allocated to them is not enough. They mostly sneak to Pajok in Magwi County, Eastern Equatorial State of South Sudan.
According to Charles Ogeno, a researcher at the London School of Economics who explored displacement and return of the refugees, revealed that some of them return to their homes to gather information that would inform their future return.
“Several refugees also return to their homes despite safety precautions because of food aid related challenges,” he said.
Mr Julius Mucunguzi, the Communications Officer in the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) disputed the claims of the illegal return of the refugees to their homes. He however, said the Ugandan government encourages voluntary repatriation of refugees.
In line with the 2006 Refugee Act, refugees in Uganda continue to enjoy freedom of movement, the right to work and establish businesses, the right to documentation and equal access to national services.
The OPM, United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and other partners continue to provide all new arrivals with reception assistance at entry points and collection centres as well as relocation to settlements.
Uganda is the largest refugee-hosting country in Africa, with over a million refugees, most of them from South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Burundi and Somalia.
In March this year, South Sudan’s Ministry for Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management said over 140,000 South Sudan refugees who fled the country to Uganda, Ethiopia, Central African Republic and Sudan at the height of the civil war had returned home.