September 2, 2013

OPM Evicts 60,000 From Refugee Camp

More than 60,000 encroachers on Kyangwali refugee settlement camp land in Hoima district have been evicted as Office of the Prime Minister relocates Congolese refugees to the camp.

Congolese refugees in Bundibugyo
Congolese refugees in Bundibugyo

The evicted people are from 31 villages in Kasonga parish. Some of the affected villages are Bukinda A and B, Bukinda 2, Kavule, Bwizibwera A and B, Kyeya A and B, Nyaruhanga, Kabirizi, Nyamigisa A and B and Katoma among others.

The eviction exercise that started on Thursday has forced the victims including women and children to camp at the Kyangwali sub county headquarters. The police and army spearheaded the exercise.

Sunday Matia, a resident of Bukinda village says the refugee settlement camp officials and the police came to his home on Wednesday afternoon and directed him to leave in three days as his land had been allocated to a refugee family.

Sunday, who is 39, blames government for reportedly grabbing his ancestral land. He says his parents and grandparents were buried on the same land, but government had never claimed its ownership until now.

A father of eight owns 10 acres of land in the area on which he has a banana plantation, fruit trees and other food crops on the land. Sande is uncertain of where to head next, with such a big family.

Residents explained that the letter X meant the plot had already been allocated to a refugee. Some other houses had already been demolished and residents were seen carrying iron sheets and household items on bicycles to pitch camp at the sub county headquarters.

Bukinda trading centre where majority of the affected population is concentrated is about 15kilometres from Kyangwali sub county headquarters where the evictees have pitched camp.

Meanwhile at the sub county headquarters the evictees are sleeping under trees due to lack of shelter. The sub county headquarter building is too small to accommodate them. Forty-eight year old Serestine Byaruhanga, a resident of Nyamigisa village is one of those taking shelter under a tree together with five of his family members.

Byaruhanga says the refugee settlement camp officials escorted by police ordered him to leave on Thursday afternoon. With all his food gardens left behind, Byaruhanga says he has no way to fend for his family. He asks government to allow them sometime back to go and collect their food.

This reporter also saw a number of police officers resting in their tents at Bukinda Trading centre. The police officers declined to talk to journalists, saying they were not allowed to do so.

Rwemera Mazirane, the Kyangwali sub county Local Council chairperson, says his office is overwhelmed by the problem. Mazirane says the sub county headquarters is too small and ill facilitated to handle such a crowd of people. Mazirane says he is working with the Buhaguzi area Member Of Parliament Julius Bigirwa Junjura to bring the issue to the attention of Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi.

Early this month, Mazirane petitioned the Office of the Prime Minister on behalf of the affected residents protesting eviction. He argued in the petition that the residents settled on their individual land outside the refugee settlement camp.

But at the start of the Congolese refugees relocation exercise in mid-August, Douglas Asiimwe, the Senior Refugee Protection Officer in the office of the Prime Minister insisted that the residents encroached on the refugee settlement land. He directed them to leave or be evicted forcefully.

The Office of the Prime Minister in conjunction with United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) on August 13 began relocation of more than 20,000 Congolese refugees from Bubukwanga refugee transit centre in Bundibugyo district to Kyangwali refugee settlement camp in Hoima district.

More than 60,000 Congolese refugees ran to Uganda fleeing clashes between the Allied Democratic Forces -ADF rebels and government forces in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo-DRC.

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