East Africa

Uganda: Rakai rejects 6,000 Rwanda refugees

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At the beginning of the year, Corporal Castrol Echim was sent to Rakai along with 150 Field force unit (FFU) personnel to secure Sango Bay land that government was planning to allocate to investors.

Echim is a nursing officer by training, and his deployment in Sango Bay was primarily to nurse the FFU officers. But he now seems to attend to more Rwandan immigrants, recently expelled from Tanzania than FFU officers.

The role of this police unit has also changed from keeping away settlers to receiving more of them pouring in from Tanzania. By Saturday, the settlers had exceeded 6,000, after the department of Disaster Preparedness in the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) reportedly brought in 4,000 more.

The deportees were dumped by the Tanzanian authorities at the Kikagati border point in Isingiro district. The new arrivals joined an earlier group of about 2,050 resettled at Sango Bay two months ago.

But Rakai district leaders have protested against the government’s decision to bring in more settlers.

“OPM was not prepared for these people because they were brought with almost nothing,” said Benon Robert Mugabi, the Rakai district chairman, on Sunday.

“So, they want the district to divert its meagre resources to the care of the refugees, which we have refused.”

The OPM started driving in new settlers on October 29. They came from the villages of Rwenkuba, Nyakayojo and Nyarubungo, along the border in the Kagera region.

“In total they are about 1,351 families and to each, OPM gave 6kg of maize flour and 4kg of beans. How do they expect these people to survive unless they are telling them to descend on our people’s plantations and steal their food crops?” Mugabi said.

Health trap

Accessing health services has become a nightmare for the deportees. A makeshift clinic set up by the police in the camp is short of supplies and personnel. Being the only health worker at the clinic, Echim is on duty all the time, seeing more than 80 people a day, with varying ailments.

“I’m overwhelmed by the numbers. In one day, I get about 70 to 80 patients but I don’t have enough drugs,” Echim told The Observer last weekend.

The OPM had asked the district leadership to share some of the drugs at its health facilities with the makeshift clinic in the camp, but this has been rejected by the Rakai authorities.

“Our health facilities are also short of drugs and most of the facilities there are wanting. Before deciding to bring these people here, they [government] should have done some serious preparation because how shall we make up for the drug shortage if we give away the little we have in our hospitals?” Mugabi said.

By Saturday, the situation had become dire with at least eight cases, including Betina Busingye, a new mother, referred to Kakuuto health centre IV. Busingye says she was picked from a hospital bed after a caesarean section, and deported by the Tanzanian authorities, along with her baby.

“When the ultimatum they [Tanzanian authorities] gave us elapsed, they rounded us up and deported us. There was no chance for us to get back to our relatives or be allowed to pick a few belongings to come with,” she said.

There are fears of more disease outbreaks in the camp given the poor conditions. The OPM has indicated that Sango Bay is only a transitory camp where the settlers would be kept for a short while.

District leaders want the government to state clearly, how long the refugees are to remain in Rakai. They insist the Rwandans should not stay for longer than three months.

A longer stay, some fear, could jeopardize the area’s investment opportunities after a UK-based investment group agreed to construct an air- cargo handling facility at Sango Bay.

“Besides, the locals can no longer graze their cattle because all the land is now occupied by the refugees. We also fear that since they came with unvaccinated animals, they may infect local animals and in the end cattle markets will be closed,” Mugabi added.

According to Godfrey Maate, the FFU commander in Sango Bay, some of the entrants are Ugandans, mainly Bakiga who settled in Tanzania between 30 to 50 years ago.

“Not all of them are Rwandans, some of them went from Kabale and settled in Tanzania and we can’t call them refugees but returnees,” Maate said.

Kakuuto MP Mathias Kasamba told The Observer that parliament would intervene. On Wednesday, Kasamba brought the issue to the attention of the House, with the government now expected to respond.

The assistant commissioner for disaster preparedness in OPM, Gerald Menha, who oversaw the relocation of the refugees, declined to speak to The Observer.

sadabkk@observer.ug

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