By Andrew Irumba
Minister of Disaster Preparedness and Refugees, Mr Hilary Onek has asked refugees from Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan to return home saying their countries are now stable and capable of protecting them.
The minister made the remarks while addressing delegates at the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) high-level experts and ministerial meeting on jobs, livelihoods and self-reliance for refugees, returnees and host communities at Speke Resort Munyonyo in Kampala on Thursday.
“Some countries have become politically stable, so refugees from there should go back and settle. Some of them keep going and coming back,” he said.
Mr Onek also complained that some of the refugees, instead of reciprocating the hospitality accorded by the government and Ugandan hosts, had turned into enemies.
“Of late, some people have started quarrelling with us and yet we looked after them, we gave them opportunities, Education and good accommodation. All of a sudden, they have become our enemies over nothing. We only ask God to deal with them because we have done nothing,” he said. Though he didn’t mention name but pundits say he was referring to president Paul Kagame of Rwanda who was once here as a refugee before he went to topple the then Rwanda administration.
Uganda and Rwanda are still in a longstanding dispute that has seen relations sour and trade hampered.
Kigali accuses Kampala of hosting rebels opposed to its government and subjecting Rwandan citizens to illegal arrests and torture. Kampala, on the other hand, accuses Rwanda of acts of espionage and unfair trade practices.
There are about 130,000 Rwandans and 14,000 Burundians living in Uganda as refugees, according to government figures. South Sudanese refugees are about one million.
Ms Duniya Khan, the spokesperson of the UN refugee agency in Uganda, said repatriation of refugees should comply with existing, binding international refugee policy.
“As far as we know, there has been no change in (Uganda) government policy in hosting and continuing to receive refugees while there is always the hope that eventually refugees can and will return voluntarily when situations stabilize. Return must be voluntary,” she noted.
Uganda’s policy on refugees has been applauded globally as liberal because it gives refugees rights to acquire and own land, do business, study or get jobs.
Mr Mahboub Maalim, the IGAD executive secretary, said the three-day meeting had made declarations to amend national policies and regulations on free movement of people and trade among member countries.
“We are using Uganda as a case on how hospitable they have been so that other countries can also do the same. We want countries to become more tolerant to their nationals and others through giving them equal rights with those of citizens,” Mr Maalim said.