Accommodate refugees without abandoning us

Monday August 30 2021
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Ivan Bwowe

By Ivan Bwowe

“No one leaves home unless it is the mouth of a shark”- Warsan Shire noted. The story of Uganda’s willingness to accommodate 2,000 Afghans has been awash in the press and social media, inviting comments from the public both in support and in opposition almost in equal measure.

Uganda boasts of hosting about 1.4 million refugees, accounting for about 3.6 per cent of the Ugandan population and that number continues to rise due to instabilities in the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan.

We still wait to see the impact of Covid-19 on the migration patterns and related forced migration.  This does not make Uganda’s policy on refugees a bed of roses as there have been gross violations of rights of the refugees, sexual abuse, corruption and other many evils exploiting the vulnerability of the refugees. 

The Ugandan government suspended more than 200 refugee agencies, further complicating the handling of refugees. 

The reactions about the 2,000 Afghans refugees have been provocative and sexualised in the Ugandan social media community. The sexism is an embarrassment. The non-appreciation of Uganda’s history is at acute levels and this is evident in the comments and reactions. 

Whereas we have been hosting refugees since the 1920s, it is not true that Uganda is always at the refugee receiving end. Uganda has experienced turbulent times and many Ugandans have been refugees before, mainly in the 1970s and 1980s. We have had internally displaced persons, which is not necessarily a good record. 

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To date, Ugandans continue to flee the country for one reason or the other. There is no proof or assurance that we shall not have massive instability in the future. So, as comments fly around, you and I are potential refugees. Your current status notwithstanding. 

As Pope Francis noted “Migrants and refugees are not pawns on the chessboard of humanity. They are children, women and men who leave or who are forced to leave their homes for various reasons, who share a legitimate desire for knowing and having, but above all for being more”. 

The 2,000 Afghan refugees coming to Uganda should not be a major concern to Ugandans.
The concern, however, should be on the safety of Ugandans who were externalised for labour in Afghanistan. 

In the ministerial statement of  July 18, 2019 on “Issues of externalisation of labour” read to Parliament by  Ms Peace Regis Mutuuzo (then the minister for Gender and Cultural Affairs) while holding the portfolio of Minister of Gender, Labour and Social Development indicated that between 2010-2019, the ministry had deployed 2,509 Ugandans to Afghanistan. This number is likely higher considering that the statement was issued two years ago.

We have heard the take of the ministry of Foreign Affairs on the willingness to take up to 2,000 Afghan refugees, an act that is humane and welcome. We are yet to hear from the same Ministry and the Ministry of Gender Labour and Social Development on the status of the Ugandans in Afghanistan and the plans in place to ensure their safety and repatriation.

Unfortunately, we have to remind those managing this country about the plight of Ugandans wherever they may be.  As the government enjoys all praises about its willingness to host the 2,000 Afghan refugees, it should deploy all resources to secure the 2,500 plus Ugandans it deployed through the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development to Afghanistan since 2010.

Uganda’s government can accommodate refugees within Uganda without abandoning its citizens for the dead in Afghanistan.  The blanket denial of responsibility by Minister Oryem  Okello about the status of Ugandans in Afghanistan is not only unfortunate but disgusting.

Mr Bwowe Ivan  is a  lawyer
[email protected] 

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