Uganda: Afghans in Uganda – allAfrica.com
Kampala, Uganda – On August 17, Ugandans woke up to learn that the government had agreed to temporarily house around 2,000 Afghan refugees following a request from the US government.
Until then, many Ugandans were aware of the long-standing conflict in distant Afghanistan. But few could have imagined that their country would get involved in one way or another, albeit as a safe haven for humanitarian aid in the crisis.
Instead, when Taliban fighters quickly swept the country and took control of the capital, Kabul, in mid-August, thousands of Afghans immediately began running for their lives when President Ashraf Ghani left Afghanistan. .
Esther Davinia Anyakun, Ugandan Minister of State for Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Refugees, announced that the United States had asked Uganda to take in 2,000 fleeing Afghans.
She said President Yoweri Museveni ordered her to prepare to welcome 2,000 Afghan refugees who would be brought in in teams of 500.
She revealed that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had secured the imperial group of hotels in Entebbe as a transit center for Afghans to arrive and be checked. She said Afghans should stay in Uganda for at least three months before being transferred to a third country.
In the early morning hours of August 25, a chartered flight carrying 51 evacuees from Afghanistan landed at the old Entebbe airport. The Independent understands that the flight was arranged by an Afghan-American service company known as Sayara International.
The International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Uganda, an American humanitarian agency that has worked in Afghanistan for 30 years and in Uganda since 1998, received the Afghan evacuees and will assist them with accommodation, health care and social services during their temporary stay. in Uganda.
“The IRC is proud to complement the efforts of the Ugandan government and the United States Embassy to receive and support 51 Afghan evacuees who arrived in Uganda at 7:53 am this morning,” said Elijah Okeyo, director of IRC country in Uganda, shortly after the Afghan evacuees. arrival in Uganda.
“Evacuees from Afghanistan will stay temporarily in Uganda during their transit while seeking asylum in resettlement countries such as the United States.
“Uganda has a long history and tradition of hosting refugees from all over the world and is one of the largest refugee hosting countries in the world, with 1.5 million refugees mainly from South Sudan and the United States. Democratic Republic of Congo.
The Foreign Ministry said the evacuees, which included men, women and children, underwent necessary security checks along with mandatory COVID-19 testing and required quarantine procedures.
A statement from the US Embassy in Kampala noted that as the greatest bilateral support for refugees in Uganda and their Ugandan host communities, the United States appreciates the Ugandan people for their generosity and hospitality to these communities. .
“The Ugandan Government has once again demonstrated its willingness to play its part in matters of international concern. We commend his efforts and those of local and international organizations in Uganda who provide humanitarian support in partnership with the Government of Uganda to these evacuees. from Afghanistan. “
“The United States appreciates the Ugandan government’s offer to provide temporary assistance to the evacuees from Afghanistan and commends the representatives of international organizations in Uganda for their partnership and for providing their expertise and support to the evacuees from Afghanistan.” , the spokesperson for the US mission in Kampala told The Independent. in an email.
UNHCR’s country office in Uganda also told The Independent on August 26 that it congratulated Uganda for opening its doors to Afghan nationals when they needed it. Uganda has a long tradition of welcoming refugees and this is another great show of solidarity with those whose lives and liberties are threatened at home.
“In coordination with the OPM and the US government, we are exploring our level of involvement in line with our mandate to protect asylum seekers and refugees,” UNHCR said in a statement.
On its social media platforms where daily public updates on the evacuation drill are posted, the White House said the US government was evacuating thousands of Afghans eligible for Special Immigrant Visas (VIS) .
Special immigrant visas are visas for Afghans (and their families) who have worked alongside the United States and played invaluable roles, such as translators and interpreters.
“Our administration continues its efforts to get VIS and other vulnerable Afghans out as quickly as possible through one of the largest airlifts in human history.
The White House said on August 26 that since the end of July, the US government had relocated around 101,300 people on US military and coalition flights to the United States, the United Kingdom as well as Canada, South Korea. , North Macedonia, Albania, Kosovo and Uganda.
But, as Afghans made their way to a swanky hotel on the shores of Lake Victoria in Entebbe, many Ugandans wondered why Afghans would travel thousands of miles to a poor African country.
The reality is different. According to the World Bank’s World Development Indicators (WDI), in 2021, Afghanistan is ranked as the 10th poorest country in the world with a gross national income (GNI) per capita of USD 500. America has a per capita GNI of $ 65,910 and Uganda of $ 800. And accepting refugees is not about being rich or poor.
Foreign Minister General Jeje Odongo in an interview with CNN on August 24 said it was the development of the security situation in Afghanistan, particularly around Kabul, that forced Americans to seek refuge. for Afghans in Uganda.
“We have agreed to house these people and our discussions indicate that the Americans will take responsibility for looking after these people while they are in Uganda.
He noted that Uganda’s compassion for refugees is informed by the experience of members of the government, many of whom were in exile as refugees in the 1970s and 1980s.
“We have been in exile before; we know the pain, the suffering and the indignity of being a refugee,” he said, “We have a philosophy that makes us understand that in a community of nations we have a responsibility to the international community. “
Olara Otunnu, former Permanent Representative of Uganda to the United Nations, who has also served as the United Nations Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, noted that Uganda does not host refugees. He appeared on a local TV talk show on August 24.
“These are evacuees; this is an organized evacuation of people who support the United States. They could become refugees elsewhere,” he said.
Otunnu said Uganda has a duty to show solidarity with people in humanitarian distress. He said Uganda is one of the biggest host countries in the world right now and has been one of the most hospitable countries for refugees, and it should continue that way.
“This, however, does not mean that the decision to take in refugees should not be debated or discussed. It is important for the Ugandan people and the government to probe and analyze our own capacities and readiness to welcome these people.
“This is how a decision of this magnitude is made so that people know what is going on, there should be transparency about the Afghan refugees.”
Indeed, Uganda, through the Refugee Act 2006 and the Refugee Regulations 2010, demonstrated many of the principles of the 1951 Refugee Convention which defines the rights of refugees.
These include the right not to be expelled, except under certain strictly defined conditions; the right to work, the right to housing, education, public relief and assistance, freedom of access to courts; the right to freedom of movement within the country and the right to be issued with identity and travel documents.
As soon as refugees cross Ugandan borders, the government works with UNHCR and other local refugee agencies to register and issue civil identity documents to individual refugees, adjudicate asylum claims and appeals. , deploy officials, health workers and teachers to refugee camps. ; and providing medical supplies and personnel to refugee operations.
Several refugee camps have been set up across the country in the districts of Arua, Adjumani, Moyo, Kyenjojo, Hoima, Masindi and Isingiro.
Active settlements include Nakivale, Oruchinga, Kyangwali, Kiryandongo, Parolinya and the integrated camps of Adjumani. There are options for asylum seekers and refugees to stay in urban areas like Kampala as long as they can be self-sufficient. Today, Uganda hosts more than 1,300,000 refugees, mainly from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, Burundi, Somalia and the Central African Republic, Egypt, Pakistan, Liberia , Sierra Leone, Eritrea and Sri Lanka.
Uganda’s experience with refugees dates back to colonial times. At the height of World War II in 1942, for example, the country hosted 7,000 Polish refugees, mostly women and children in Nyabyeya (Masindi) and Kojja (Mukono).
But not all Ugandans are impressed by the Ugandan government’s decision to bring evacuees into the country.
Mwambutsya Ndebesa, historian and lecturer at Makerere University in Kampala, told German international broadcaster Deutsche Welle that Uganda could attract unwanted attention from terrorist groups by hosting Afghan refugees.
“The Afghan refugees could draw the attention of international terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda, al-Shabab and ISIS to Uganda and destabilize the country,” he said.
Francis Babu, a politician and former Ugandan parliament lawmaker, is also not happy with the decision. He fears the ruthless new Afghan rulers.
He fears that the agreement reached between the United States and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to welcome Afghan refugees could harm relations between Afghanistan and Uganda. Babu also believes the United States is eminently better suited to accommodate evacuees.
“If you think America has 50 states, some of those states are bigger than Uganda. Suppose you take all 50 states and divide them into 2,000 people; each state would take 40 people. I wonder. why Uganda should agree to take 2,000 people, “Babou said.