Kampala – The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Gen.Jeje Odong has revealed that despite pressure from the public demanding government to evacuate some Ugandans trapped in Afghanistan cities like Kabul, Kandahar and others some Ugandans have refused to leave the middle east country and there is no way government can force them.
Jeje made the revelation on Tuesday 31 while appearing before Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee where he had appeared to respond to a number of questions regarding Uganda’s foreign policy.
The Minister told the Committee that the unfolding events in Afghanistan evolved very quickly and being mindful of the danger of the citizens, Uganda joined other 60 nations calling on the Taliban to ensure the safe evacuation of citizens.
“We are making every effort to look out for any other Ugandan in Afghanistan and have established that there are also some Ugandans in Afghanistan who are unwilling to return, they simply say we are okay, we don’t want to leave, so we can’t force them to leave. The evacuation of Ugandans is done voluntarily, we aren’t forcing anyone to leave Afghanistan,” said Minister Odong.
The Minister also said that when the Ministry of Foreign Affairs contacted the Ministry of Gender to find out whether they were Ugandan nationals externalized in Afghanistan, they were informed that there were no Ugandans that remained in Afghanistan since they were evacuated in April 2020.According to Jeje, there were some 10 Ugandans evacuated by United Nations on flights to London, UK and six of these arrived in Uganda. The Minister also said that Government established presence of three Ugandans who are willing to be evacuated and arrangements were made.
He said that one of the three Ugandans has been evacuated with US aircraft and is in Berlin Germany and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is reportedly offering the necessary assistance to get him here.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs also gave an update of the 51 Afghan refugees that arrived last week, saying the request to host the Afghan nationals is temporary and the group is undergoing quarantine as part of the measures to contain the spread of Covid-19.
He denied accusations that the Afghan evacuees were being given preferential treatment at cost of Ugandans remarking, “The evacuees who included men, women and children underwent necessary screening, Covid-19 checking. As I speak they are under quarantine. They will remain in Uganda for their onward journey. These aren’t refugees but people on transit. The cost of providing for their needs is being met with U.S.”
Responding to questions on the whereabouts of Fred Lumbuye, who was reportedly abducted and extradited to Uganda by security forces, Minister Jeje said it is still a matter of discussion between Uganda, Turkey and Interpol and when these discussions are concluded, he will update Parliament.
Norah Bigirwa (Buliisa DWR) asked the Minister to explain why the Government has failed to issue travel documents in its Missions abroad, forcing some Ugandans to go into hiding for fear of being arrested to which Jeje blamed on the lack of technical capacity for Government to procure machines to print the electronic new passports.
She said, “The Committee has received appeals from Ugandans who are stuck as a result of failure by Missions abroad to issue travel documents. To aggravate the problem, when they are found by authorities, they are harassed, prosecuted and sometimes reported on grounds of expired documents and this has made several of our people to go into hiding.”
The Minister admitted that since Uganda transitioned from machine-readable to electronic passports, the Missions haven’t acquired machines to produce the new passports.
He said, “This is because of a technical problem. When we had the machine-readable passport, when we converted to electronic passport, we needed equipment to do that, therefore we are unable to issue new passport because we don’t have the technical capacity to do that.”
Commenting on recent killings and violence committed against Ugandans in South Sudan, Jeje admitted that indeed some Ugandans in South Sudan sometimes get mistreated, but blamed it on some Ugandans entering South Sudan illegally.
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“Many Ugandans are in South Sudan without requisite documentation, we have reached an understanding that a request of 90 days be given that is being done to ensure Ugandans stay peacefully,” said Jeje.