How govt secured release of 23 Ugandans from Myanmar

Part of the group that was trapped in Myanmar, at Entebbe International Airport on May 23, 2024. A total of 23 Ugandans May 23 returned home. PHOTO/FRANK BAGUMA

What you need to know:

  • The Ugandans were lured with promises of employment.

A total of 23 Ugandans, who were trafficked to Myanmar in the last few years, yesterday returned to Uganda.

The group returned aboard Ethiopian Airlines, which touched down at Entebbe International Airport shortly before midday.

They were received by officials from the ministries of Foreign Affairs and Internal Affairs and the International Organisation of Migration (IOM).

This followed months of discussions between the Uganda government, their Thai counterparts, and IOM. 

Late last year, a Ugandan trapped in Myanmar shared a video asking the government to rescue them.
According to the video, several Ugandan youths with IT skills were lured to Thailand with promises of employment.

The culprits were reportedly working in the cryptocurrency business. 

In Thailand, the culprits confiscated the group’s travel documents and transported them by road and water to Myanmar where they were forced to work in farms and do other odd jobs.

When the Ugandan government learnt of the plight of the youth, it immediately reached out to the Thai government and managed to establish contact with the culprits who demanded a ransom. 

Uganda’s Ambassador to Thailand Betty Bigombe, however, said the government did not pay the ransom and worked tirelessly to secure the release of the Ugandans. 

“As I talk now, we still have many other Ugandans locked up in there and we are trying to work hard to make sure they also return home like these others. We still have Ugandans, all other nationalities, for that matter, who are still being held,” Ms Bigombe said.

She said the human trafficking racket targets people from poor countries, especially in Africa and Asia, adding that there are currently more than 100,000 foreigners trapped in Myanmar.

“…they (human traffickers) target mainly poor countries or developing countries to lure their citizens because today unemployment, especially for youth, is a major, major problem. Therefore, we have to see a way, a concerted way to stop this problem,” she said.

Ugandans who were trapped in Myanmar arrive at Entebbe International Airport on April 3, 2024. The arrival of the group marked months of diplomatic shuttles between Uganda, the government of Thailand, and the International Organisation for Migration. PHOTO/FRANK BAGUMA

Mr Vincent Bagiire Waiswa, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said human trafficking has become a global problem that must be tackled at all levels.

“I want to say that human trafficking, which is a transnational crime, has become increasingly complex and dangerous, especially among the youth, women, and to some extent children, as you can see. The returnees we are receiving are young people,” he said. 

Mr Bagiire urged Ugandans to be cautious of fraudulent employment schemes. 

“The ministry, working with the Ministry of Internal Affairs, continues to work on preventing human trafficking through regional and international cooperation. Please tell your colleagues that this saying that there are jobs elsewhere is a lie. The jobs are here in this country and use your skills to secure the jobs,” he said.

Mr Sanusi Tejan Savage, the IOM head of mission to Uganda, said Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja played a crucial role in ensuring the release of the Ugandans trapped in Myanmar.

Mr Savage said Ms Nabbanja met with the Director General of IOM in Rome, Italy, earlier this year and raised the issue of the trapped Ugandans, requesting assistance to rescue them.

“Today, as a father, myself, having heard what these Ugandans have gone through, I cannot say I am delighted. Maybe I can say I am relieved that these Ugandans have come back home from the Royal Republic of Thailand. So please allow me on behalf of Haile to say welcome home, my brothers and sisters,” he said.