Urgent Alert: Uganda Security Services kidnapped Congolese Refugees and handed them over to M23 rebels

Uganda kidnapped Congolese Refugees and handed them over to M23 Rebel Group operating in Bunagana DRCongo: We call upon donors mainly the USA, the European Union, World Bank, Japan, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia among others to impose sanctions to Uganda Authorities.

According to various media in DRCongo, on Sunday September 11th, 2022 two Buses carrying Congolese Refugees from Nakivale and KyakaII Refugee Camps in Uganda towards the Democratic Republic of Congo were instead diverted by Uganda Security Services and were handed over to M23 Rebel Group on the border between Uganda and DRCongo.

According to one local leader in Jomba area which is occupied by M23 up to now in DRCongo told Radio Okay “These compatriots were deceived by Ugandan Authorities that Bunagana has been taken by the DRCongo Army and that M23 rebels are no longer there”.

These Congolese did not want to remain as refugees in Uganda, so they requested to be taken back to Rutshuru in DRCongo via Kitagoma Border with Uganda which is under the control of DRCongo government forces. As they reached Kisoro in Uganda, they were surrounded by armed groups both M23 Rebels and Ugandan Army, then the two Buses were diverted to Bunagana which is under the control of M23 rebels.  One among them indicated “we know very well the road, so we realized that we did not take the very road leading to Kitagoma, so we started screaming and actually some amongst us wanted to jump out from the Bus but then Uganda soldiers told us that our home villages were retaken by the government, so we were happy and then decided to go. This happened because in the camps in Uganda we could not access information, no radio, no TV, no social media, no SMS. When we reached we realized that the area is still controlled by M23. We are here with them but we don’t want to live in this area which is occupied by the rebels

What exactly happened?

In March 2022 the M23 Rebel Group backed by Rwanda and Uganda started attacking some parts of Bunagana in DRCongo and forced thousands of Congolese to leave their villages and crossed to Uganda as it was the only option available. According to UNHCR Uganda more than 45,000 Congolese fled to Uganda and were living with host communities.  Currently Bunagana is under the control of M23 rebels, which are composed mainly of refugees based in Uganda and in Rwanda. “At least ¾ of M23 fighters are registered refugees in Uganda and in Rwanda drawn from the Tutsi community”.  

Most of the Congolese who fled to Uganda since March 2022 up to now, did not want to register as refugees, they requested both Uganda and UNHCR to be taken back to DRCongo but they were denied that option and were instead forced to relocate to Refugees Camps in Uganda, as they were promised better life and other advantages.

In this month of September most of these Congolese started asking to be taken back to DRCongo but Uganda and UNHCR stopped them to go, which created tensions in Uganda and in the process some were helped to cross into DRCongo and they are now in Rutshuru. Others who are in various refugee camps in Uganda want to leave and come back to DRCongo, but again both Uganda and UNHCR do not allow them and there is no clear reason advanced by UNHCR and Uganda. “We believe that such terrorist action of hijacking people was a strong signal to any Congolese refugee who wish to leave Uganda, such acts aim at creating fear among Congolese refugees and it is way of forcing them to stay in Uganda as hostages”.

What does Uganda want?

Uganda has given two options to Congolese refugees: “Either to seek for a refugee status in Uganda and remain in refugee camps, or to go back to Bunagana which is under the control of M23”. These two options have been rejected by Congolese refugees who want to go in Rutshuru which is controlled by the DRCongo Army, an option which Uganda has also rejected.

On the other side, we have seen Uganda and UNHCR Uganda aggressively engaging donors to give them money in order to help these refugees. “Last week UNHCR made an appeal of 68 million Dollars in order to help more than 98,000 new refugees mainly from DRCongo”. Uganda’s main agenda is more economic and it may do anything possible in order to get money in the name of relief to refugees. That relief money from donors is the basis of refugee suffering, it is one among the causes why Uganda wants to destabilize some parts of DRCongo.

Is DRCongo better than Uganda?

Over the years DRCongo’s image has been negatively portrayed by those who gain from the country especially Uganda and UNHCR, both the security situation and economic opportunities in DRCongo have been negatively presented in order to justify funding to refugees in Uganda.

The fact is that many parts of DRCongo, even in the eastern part, are safe and people are living there, this is what many refugees are asking about why they are living in camps in Uganda yet other people are safe in DRCongo. Most of big cities are safe apart from some cases of urban criminality, but also DRCongo has more than 5millions people in Internally Displaced Camps (IDPs) which are also secured and people live there, this is making some Congolese to ask why are they refugees in Uganda. On top of that the eastern DRCongo has better economic opportunities than Uganda especially through farming, agriculture, and small income generating activities. It is easier to access medical treatment in DRCongo than in Uganda, and currently primary education is totally free to all children in DRCongo than it is in Uganda.

There is no way we can argue that Congolese refugees are protected in Uganda, no, that is not based on reality. There is no protection Uganda can offer to a Congolese from Rutshuru or from Masisi. “It is better for Congolese to be in IDP camps in DRCongo than staying in refugee camps in Uganda”.

Why does Uganda support M23 REBELS?

We all know that because of it Tutsi composition M23 rebels will not go far in terms of taking more areas. Uganda has clearly claimed that DRCongo government should hold negotiations with the rebels and integrate them in the national army, but also we saw looting of natural resources by rebels and being taken to Uganda, and lastly it was clearly deliberate to attack Bunagana and send people to Uganda in order to seek a refugee status which Uganda wanted to use in order to get money from donors.

We have said it and we reiterate it once again that we cannot bring peace in eastern DRCongo without killing the refugee business which benefits Uganda mostly”.

Generally M23 rebels have been accused of serious crimes against humanity and as such they are in a bad situation to advance their ideas of liberating people, Uganda’s intention may also be to clean the image of the rebel group and show that they are good people, they can host refugees and make people free in their villages, but also M23 wants people in their villages in order to help them to get food and other necessities which the rebels need, and lastly M23 has few numbers and we have observed that they cannot convince refugees in Uganda to join them anymore, so they may want people to come and in the process some are likely to recruited by force in case of possible attack, but also because the government intends to launch an attack, these civilians are likely to be the excuse for the rebel shield.

We continue calling upon donors to:

Cut all funding to refugees in Uganda and that will bring peace in eastern DRCongo and in South Sudan, as Uganda will no longer displace people in their villages in order to seek for funding once in Uganda,

To hold Ugandan authorities involved in wars in eastern Congo accountable. It is urgent that justice should be made a priority and all those who have committed various human rights violations against Congolese people since 1996 up to now should account,

To impose sanctions to UNHCR Uganda, the Ministers of Refugees in Uganda, the Commissioner in-charge of refugees in Uganda, the Police and the Army officers who were involved in kidnapping Congolese refugees and took them to Bunagana,

Such sanctions should include travel ban, freezing assets, and legal actions in various countries,

To invest in improving opportunities in eastern DRCongo and encourage all Congolese refugees to return back home,

To make pressure on Uganda to freely allow Congolese who want to return back to their home to do so, and actually provide accurate information to all Congolese in various refugee camps in Uganda about the situation in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo,

To all donors and development partners in Uganda to make pressure on Uganda to withdraw the refugee status to all M23 and other rebels in Uganda and to refrain from granting refugee status to people who are alleged of committing serious crimes against humanity, and other crimes,


Kulihoshi Musikami Pecos

Refugee Programme Officer