Hon. Hilary Onek
Cabinet Minister for Disaster Preparedness and Refugees
The State Minister for Disaster, Preparedness and Refugees,
The Commissioner, Office of the Prime Minister Department of Refugees, Kampala Uganda,
The Cabinet Minister of Foreigner Affairs,
The Chairperson of Uganda Human Rights Commission,
The Uganda Civil Society,
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees,
The Embassy of the Democratic Republic of Congo,
The Minister of Foreign Affairs,
Kinshasa Democratic Republic of Congo,
The Civil Society,
Democratic Republic of Congo,
The Development Partners
in Kinshasa DRCongo and in Kampala Uganda,
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR),
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of Migrants
Re: Protest against the brutality by Uganda Security Services towards Congolese Refugees in Kisoro, Uganda: We demand that all those involved be held accountable and the victims be compensated as quickly as possible.
Dear Hon. Minister,
We are saddened by what we saw in various media how the Uganda Security Services handled Congolese Refugees in Kisoro on Friday September 2nd, and Saturday September 3rd, 2022. Such acts came at a time when we still have fresh wounds of Uganda brutality and various human rights violations in eastern DRCongo since 1996 up to now. Our hearts are also bleeding because of the testimonies we received from Congolese Refugees in Uganda which affects the long acclaimed “Uganda Hospitality” towards refugees, and contradicts president Museveni statements of “we are all Africans” and destroys the “sense of humanity” in Uganda. How can a full National Army operate like a militia group against unarmed civilians already made too vulnerable by the state in which they are living?
As a reminder since Marc 21st, 2022 Congolese started leaving their villages in Bunagana, Jomba and Bweza in Rutshuru, North Kivu Province in DRCongo towards Uganda due to the war by the Rebels of M23 supported by Rwanda and Uganda Armies. Should we recall that it is now more than 30 years since Uganda security services have been involved in various wars in DRCongo which has displaced thousands of Congolese refugees towards Uganda where they live in extreme and deplorable conditions despite the generosity of the donors who send in relief aid and that ends up being embezzled by Uganda, leaving refugees to languish. This can also be viewed as another form of aggression against Congolese refugees in Uganda.
The current statistics indicate that more than 45,000 Congolese refugees fled to Uganda and are mostly living in deplorable conditions in Kisoro District. We are shocked to hear from their testimonies in various media that the Government of Uganda told them on Wednesday August 31st, 2022 to either relocate to Nyakabande Transit Camp or go back to their villages which are controlled by the rebels of M23 up to now. Let us share with you that some among the M23 rebels in Bunagana currently are registered refugees in Rwamwanja, Nakivale, Uruchinga Refugee Camps in Uganda and others are part of urban refugees in Kampala, who were recruited since 2020 in the total indifference of the Government of Uganda, despite all alerts made by refugee whistleblowers. The massive displacement of refugees in eastern DRCongo seems to be more perceived as a deliberate policy of Uganda Foreign Affairs aiming at helping Uganda to have sound reasons to convince the International Community to bring in relief Aid, and also being able to recruit some of these refugees into armed groups fighting in eastern DRCongo.
Some among these refugees who “were supposed to be well protected in Uganda” are now rebel members of M23, they are residents of various parts in Rutshuru DRCongo and are well-known by the local population including those who fled to Uganda. Credible sources of information do indicate how M23 rebels continue to recruit Congolese refugees in Uganda, and as you may remember, Congolese refugee human rights defenders who tried to denounce such practices were harassed and forced to leave Uganda by the security services in total indifference of your Ministry and UNHCR Uganda. Can that be perceived as a complicity?
Most of the Congolese who fled to Uganda since March 2022, currently living in Kisoro and Bunaganda “have continued to indicate that they do not want to be registered as refugees and would like to go back to DRCongo and live in Internally Displaced Camps” in Rutshuru rather than living in Refugee Camps in Uganda mainly Rwamwanja, Uruchinga, Kyangwali and Nakivale, where they risk being recruited by M23 rebels, faced harsh life conditions, and be exposed to other risks. The efforts of these refugees to seek for relocation from Kisoro to DRCongo through Kitagoma Border Point, up to Rutshuru “has not been supported by the Government of Uganda and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees” which is unacceptable human rights violation. It is not neither Uganda nor UNHCR Uganda to choose the length of period a person should remain a refugee, it is not Uganda and UNHCR to make someone who does not want a refugee, nor it is not Uganda and UNHCR to force someone to stay in Uganda as a refugee. It is not Uganda and UNHCR decide when and how should someone leave Uganda. Your role is to facilitate those who intend to put to the end their desire to remain as refugees for a while, much as questions exist how can you claim the protection of Congolese refugees in Uganda when you are military involved in wars in eastern parts of DRCongo?
Let us bring to your attention that contrary to most of the propaganda advanced by Uganda, about how it has protected refugees and how the country gives refugees opportunities, it is much better to live in IDP Camps in DRCongo than to live in a refugee camps in Uganda. There is no way Uganda can claim to protect Congolese refugees from Rutshuru, Masisi in Uganda because they have better livelihood opportunities in DRCongo than in Uganda, and most of IDP Camps in DRCongo are more protected than some of the refugee camps in Uganda.
As you also know that most of Congolese Refugee Children in Uganda cannot afford the “so called Uganda free education” where they pay money and yet in DRCongo primary education is totally free, but also refugees have many challenges to access health services in Uganda yet it is easier in DRCongo in order to reduce the number of refugees dying in Uganda due to poor medical treatment. The list is long which can favor the repatriation of Congolese refugees back to their country. The more Uganda should keep Congolese refugees in her territory for whatever pretext, the more we shall continue facing security threats in eastern DRCongo, and it is now time to understand this link in order to promote peace in the region. “We must stand up and kill this refugee business deal in the region if we want peace to prevail”.
We observed brutality against Congolese refugees in Kisoro, especially those who were in Kibaya Bunagana and others who managed to rent houses, we have also been informed by the same refugees that the Government of Uganda forced many to relocate to Nyakabande Transit Center where they are living in harsh and dire conditions, despite the whole arsenal of lies from both OPM and UNHCR that these refugees would be assisted in Nyakabanda, instead of helping them to cross up to Rutshuru where they want to live. We strongly protest against Uganda’s efforts that have been deployed to convince these refugees to stay in Uganda, we regret the excessive pressure that amount every day to these refugees through various delegations which come in to preach how Uganda is “a paradise” to them, but also we applaud the determination and the resistance of these refugees who have rejected the empty offer and have not yet surrounded to military intimidations in Nyakabande Transit Center.
Most of these Congolese refugees in Nyakabande are living in fear of being transferred by force to various refugee camps in Uganda as it has been done in the past, and currently they are being told about Rwamwanja, Kyangwali and Uruchunga among others. Some among these refugees in Nyakabande have indicated that they are being surrounded by security services and are not allowed to leave the camp in order to move towards DRCongo through Kitagoma border point.
Lastly we are concerned by reports from Congolese refugees who are denied opportunities to put an end to their refugee life in Uganda by the OPM Department of refugees, as they are denied papers that can help them to leave Uganda and come back to DRCongo. Refugees from KyakaII, Rwamwanja, Nakivale, and Kampala have wanted to leave and come to DRCongo but in vain. For example from Kampala up to Kisoro there are four road-blocks and the security services are instructed not to allow any Congolese refugees to leave Uganda, Congolese are seriously checked to ensure that they are not refugees. Some have been arrested and others have been sent back to Kampala and to other camps, just because they want to go back to their country. This joins the same reality that all refugees who have tried to leave Uganda towards Kenya have been blocked and arrested by Uganda security services at the border with Kenya and no one has been allowed to cross into Kenya. Such acts highly limits the freedom of movement and the free choice of refugees and makes them appear like hostages in Uganda.
We are concerned that through history Uganda has used refugees for political and military purposes in the region since 1986 when President Museveni took power and that has destabilized the great lakes region up to now, and at the same time Uganda has forced people to flee their countries in order to mobilize humanitarian relief aid from donors which end in the pocket of few individuals within the government.
In line with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, the United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention, the African Union Convention on Refugees of 1969, and other legal regimes which Uganda is member state we call upon you for the following:
The Government of Uganda
To immediately and without condition allow all Congolese Refugees who wish to leave Uganda to do so without interference by Uganda security services,
To stop all plans that aims at relocating refugees in Nyakabande to other refugee camps in Uganda, and facilitate them to smoothly return back to DRCongo through Kitagoma and Ishasha Borders,
To seriously investigate and hold accountable all those involved in the recruitment of refugees in Uganda in order to join M23 rebels, and put to the end this foreign policy of involving refugees in various wars especially in eastern DRCongo,
To immediately withdraw the refugee status to all members of M23 rebels living in Uganda, and deport them back to DRCongo,
To clearly open the road to all Congolese Refugees who want to leave Uganda, remove restrictions on various road-blocks and share information to refugees who wish to leave Uganda,
To end harassments and threats against vocal refugees in Uganda and ensure their safety,
To distance herself from acts that violates the rights of refugees and strongly condemn all refugee rights violations by the government of Uganda,
To stop all propaganda towards refugees in Nyakabande, stop seducing them to claim for a refugee status in Uganda, and provide them with accurate information how refugee life is extremely hard in Uganda, in order to help them to make informed decision,
To strongly oppose clearly and publically the exploitation of refugees in Uganda into military and political activities as part of Uganda Foreign Policy, and clearly emphasize of the effective protection of refugees by Uganda, Congolese refugees do not want to live better in Uganda, they want to live in peace in their villages in DRCongo,
To stop all financial and humanitarian relief aid to Uganda due to the violation of refugee rights, and promote more close working relations with humanitarian actors in DRCongo in order to explore more better options in Congo which can offer better protection to all Congolese refugees in Uganda,
To improve her working relationship and exchange of information with UNHCR DRCongo in order to explore better options in DRCongo which can favor the protection of refugees and facilitate those who wish to return to DRCongo,
To hold accountable all UNHCR officers who played a role in the abuse of refugee rights last week in Kisoro, and put in place mechanisms that can ensure justice to the victims. To hold accountable UNHCR Officers who decided not to offer urgent protection to vocal refugees facing security threats in Uganda,
As it has been observed that the current UNHCR leadership in Uganda cannot take courage to distance from human rights abuses committed by Uganda against refugees, we call upon UNHCR Uganda Country Representative to resign, and UNHCR to place officials capable to oppose all forms of abuses against refugees in Uganda,
To put in place a special emergency protection move focusing on vocal refugees who are in difficult situation in Uganda because of their activism on refugee rights,
The Government of DRCongo
To urgently take legal actions against Uganda for abuse of Congolese refugee rights,
To clearly ask Uganda to stop all political and military activities involving refugees in order to destabilize the eastern part of DRCongo, and encourage Congolese refugees to come back home,
To engage the United Nations in order to take serious actions against Uganda and UNHCR Uganda for the violation of refugee rights, and ensure justice to the victims,
To put to the end all cooperation with Uganda, recall all the diplomatic Corps and send off Uganda Ambassador to Kinshasa, but also consider the option to close the border with Uganda,
The Development Partners
To freeze all kind of relief aid to Uganda which is given in the name of supporting refugees, that relief aid is part of drivers of insecurity in eastern DRCongo,
To support all efforts in eastern DRCongo which aim at bringing peace and strengthen the available opportunities which can offer better protection of Congolese in IDP Camps,
Encourage Congolese to leave Uganda and come back to DRCongo and live in IDPs Camps, where they have better opportunities than in Uganda,
Ensure that justice is done towards all refugees who have been abused in Uganda, and those who are victims of Uganda military operations in DRCongo,
To put in place urgent funding to help vocal refugees in difficult situation in Uganda, especially those facing security threats because of their work towards the promotion of refugee rights,
Kulihoshi Musikami Pecos
Refugee Programme Officer