Uganda offers free land to Rwandan refugees

The First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Disaster Preparedness and Refugees exclusively told The New Times recently that cabinet had approved a Refugee Policy that will see refugees owning land at no cost. Lt. Gen. (Rtd) Moses Ali said Uganda wishes to improve the standard of living of all refugees in respect to international status. Uganda will be the first country in Africa to offer free land to refugees once parliament approves the bill. “We consider refugees as our own people (citizens). People the world over say we are generous. We (government) intend to give them land so that they are able to cultivate and fend for themselves. The policy is too generous but they are human beings. It is even inhumane to call them refugees. Today, they are refugees but tomorrow it could be us (Ugandans),” Moses Ali said in an interview. He said the refugees will own small pieces of land in addition to the rations they receive. Uganda, Rwanda and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees have for the last three years engaged in the repatriation of Rwanda refugees. Of the 25,000 Rwandan refugees that Uganda has been hosting in the settlement camps of Nakivale, Oruchinga and Kyaka 11, authorities claim 4,000 have been repatriated. Other 5000 Rwandan refugees formerly in Tanzania are housed at Kibati Reception Center on humanitarian grounds. Ethnic conflicts of 1950s and the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda caused a massive influx of refugees into Uganda. Uganda presently accommodates over 250,000 refugees from Sudan, Rwanda, DR Congo and Somalia. Others are from Kenya and Ethiopia. The new refugee Act repeals the one of 1962, which Moses Ali said is ‘too British’. It mainly emphasizes observation of human rights. Moses Ali, however, warned that the law could back fire. He said the ‘comfortable environment’ the refugees are living has discouraged them from returning to their respective countries. He said 500 Rwandan refugees that had earlier been voluntarily repatriated have returned to Uganda. “Some of these people (Rwandan refugees) have come back. In fact they have come with some of their relatives. It is suspected that it is because of these policies we have created. But part of the problem is on the Rwandan government. They (Rwanda) should concretely address the issue of property rights,” the Prime Minister said. Last week, most Ugandan Members of Parliament became sentimental when the refugee Bill was tabled. MP John Baptist Kawanga (Masaka Municipality) argued that indigenous Ugandans are unemployed at the expense of Rwandans. He said Rwandans had assumed legal status. He suggested that Ugandans be given identity cards to isolate ‘foreigners’. MP John Byabagambi (Ibanda South) accused the Rwandan refugees of ‘stealing’ land from residents in Isingiro district, which hosts the refugee camps. However, Rukiga County MP (Kabale), Jack Sabiiti dismissed his colleagues’ emotional arguments. “We are all potential refugees. Let us be humane,” he deliberated. Moses Ali disclosed that once the new refugee law is passed, a combination of security personnel would screen the refugees. ‘

April 2006
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