Friction erodes hosts’ goodwill for refugees

Congolese refugees at Ntebeko stream a few kilometres from Bunagana border in Kisoro District on Friday. PHOTO / ROBERT MUHEREZA

What you need to know:

  • And the problems are many. If it is not the refugees’ livestock destroying crops in gardens of Ugandans, it is a friction over land on which the arrivals have settled on outside designated camps.

From complaints about rising crime – house break-ins, theft and assaults – to increased environmental degradation through indiscriminate cutting of trees for firewood and building mud-and-wattle houses, a long harmonious relation between Ugandan hosts and refugees, in this case Congolese nationals, is beginning to sour.

And the problems are many. If it is not the refugees’ livestock destroying crops in gardens of Ugandans, it is a friction over land on which the arrivals have settled on outside designated camps.

Mr Bubakare Nikwegye, the Bunagana Cell chairperson, flagged concerns that defecation in the open by the refugees is presenting a sanitation menace and risk of communicable disease outbreak.

One solution that officials have flouted is deployment of mobile toilets, but Kisoro District has no supporting resources or Good Samaritans to make good on the plan.

A few of the refugees – many fled without belongings – have some money to inject in the local business ecosystem, but Ugandan traders claim desperate refugees have turned burglars at night.

Scramble for services

Bunagana Town Council chairperson Ismail Ndayambaje said services in the area are stretched due to a huge refugee population, many of whom live on shop porches, making it hard for local entrepreneurs to run their businesses.

At night, and amid fear of burglary, restless traders have to hire or keep guard, he said.

“The presence of the Congolese refugees in Bunagana Town Council has impacted negatively on us as leaders because it has resulted in social conflict with the local residents,” he added.

We could not independently confirm these allegations because the refugees we contacted over the matter declined to speak, fearing retaliation.

A number of Congolese nationals are reluctant to be resettled in designated camps either because the fighting will end sooner so that they return home, or they have relatives willing to accommodate them.

Among this lot are Mr Jean Cluade Bizimana, Mr Jean Bosco Ntarwemeye, Ms Janet Wimana and Ms Nirere Wanyagasani.

“Some of our relatives that are staying in the settlement camps in Uganda told us that life is not good. We better stay here around Bunagana as we wait for the security situation to normaliae,” Ms Wanyagasani said.

That goodwill to host them outside camps, however, is waning or being challenged. One allegation of a social problem is that the Congolese fight whenever drunk, while those tested positive for Covid, or suspected to have monkeypox, are considered a health risk.

 Intelligence in Kisoro says it has picked signals that some of the arrivals back M23 while others side with Congo government, leading to frictions, counter-espionage and violence among them, and in turn presenting problems for Ugandan officials on managing the refugees.

Welcome!

You're all set to enjoy unlimited Prime content.