Ugandan Members of Parliament on the Presidential affairs committee have asked the minister for disaster preparedness Hilary Onek to devise a plan of sending the refugees back to their countries.
The members argue that the refugees have increased the population and created pressures on the limited resources yet development partners have stopped helping government. Donor countries have of late been cutting aid to Uganda following the fall out over the passing of the Anti-Homosexuality Act.
MP George Ekuma said that government has shown the refugees too much hospitality and this has made them want to live here permanently. He says that with the international community cutting aid, the government which can hardly sustain its own people can’t continue harbouring refugees permanently yet the number keeps increasing.
Butaleja MP Florence Nebanda said the refugees will make it harder for government to meet its responsibilities adding that the refugees have increased the population. She said the government has made the environment habitable for them and they don’t want to go back to their own countries yet the economic situation in the country is not good and could be worse now that the development partners withdrew their aid.
Aruu county MP Odonga Otto said that these refugees don’t even have identification and asked the minister to tell Ugandans when the refugees are going back to their countries some of whom have since become peaceful. The legislators said that this issue makes the matter of national Identity cards even more urgent for government to be able to identify who is Ugandan and who is not.
They want government to devise means of repatriating these refugees saying that the countries from where they came are now peaceful.
Onek said the law obliges Uganda to cater for refugees and that the ministry is involved in dialogues with the UN refugee agency because the local policies have to be in line with international laws on refugees.
Commissioner for refugees Apollo Kazungu said that there are regulations in place but the questions raised demand that there are policies to guide refugee management and protection in the country. Onek said that he and his team have already visited some of the countries where the refugees are supposed to be repatriated. He said that he went to Burundi and discussed with the minister the modalities of moving them through Rwanda.
He said that the minister was supposed to come to Uganda last month to meet the Burundian community here and tell them about the return to their country but he didn’t come.
Onek said that Rwanda was not cooperative adding that even the refugees felt they won’t be safe in their original country and that they own property in Uganda and fear being homeless in their country.
Kazungu explained to the members that the refugees can’t be compelled to return to their countries because refugee status is involuntary and the law allows them to remain in the host country for as long as they feel their lives in their countries are at risk.
According to the disaster preparedness and refugees ministry, Uganda has a total of 334,848 refugees the highest number being Somalis at 17,792, followed by Congolese at 170,259 and Rwandans at 14,792.