U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2006 - Uganda

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 14 June 2006
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2006 - Uganda , 14 June 2006, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4496ad0b16.html [accessed 18 August 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Refoulement/Physical Protection

There were no confirmed cases of refoulement in 2005.

The 1960 Control of Alien Refugees Act (CARA) forbade the forcible return of refugees to their country of nationality in cases where the refugee would be at risk of "physical attack" or punishment for "an offence of a political character." The legislature failed again to enact the 2003 Refugees Bill (Refugees Bill), which would have adopted standards to protect against refoulement consistent with the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (1951 Convention) and the 1969 Organization of African Unity Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa.

The CARA did not grant the right to appeal asylum decisions. The Refugee Eligibility Committee (REC) allowed refugees to challenge its decisions, but REC also reviewed those challenges and did not provide specific reasons for denial. The proposed Refugees Bill would create a separate Appeals Board. The Government forbade legal representation before REC, though it permitted counsel to submit written petitions on appeal. The Constitution granted the right to appeal administrative decisions to a court of law. In 2003, a refugee represented by the Refugee Law Project brought a rare challenge in court to the denial of legal representation in asylum hearings, but the court ruled against the refugee.

In March and April, the Government denied refugee status to over 1,000 Rwandan asylum seekers. REC conducted refugee status determinations (RSDs), granting about 95 percent of all cases it decided, although the application process was fraught with extensive delays. REC did not conduct in-person asylum interviews but instead reviewed written applications and the notes from interviews the police and sometimes the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) conducted. The police rarely conducted interviews in private settings or used interpreters. UNHCR monitored REC, but it also conducted the initial asylum interviews and therefore was not wholly objective.

The Government was unable to protect refugees in Adjumani from attacks by the rebel Lord's Resistance Army.

In January 2006, about 20,000 refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo (Congo-Kinshasa), many in poor health, began entering after fighting broke out in that country's North Kivu province.

Detention/Access to Courts

The Government continued to detain refugees and asylum seekers for illegal entry or for failing to produce identification documents, including those who had applied for asylum but were awaiting REC decisions. Local officials also detained refugees for failing to produce a proof of tax payment, even though refugees were exempt from the graduated tax unless they earned income. The Government granted advocates access to refugees and asylum seekers in detention, and usually released those detained once they were able to verify their status as refugees or asylum seekers.

Refugees without refugee permits were subject to imprisonment for up to three months. The CARA required all refugees to obtain refugee permits attesting to their status. The CARA authorized officers to deny refugee permits without offering a reason, except in cases where return of the applicant would place him or her at risk of physical attack or punishment for an offense of a "political character."

In Kampala, the Government provided recognized refugees with identification documents and refugee permits. Those recognized on a prima facie basis or granted status through RSDs in rural areas received ration cards, which most government authorities accepted in place of a refugee permit. In Kampala, UNHCR provided temporary documentation to asylum seekers whom the police had registered and interviewed. Refugees and asylum seekers could sue in courts.

The CARA allowed settlement commandants to detain refugees for up to 30 days for disciplinary offenses, including leaving or even attempting to leave the settlement without permission, disobeying any order or direction of the Directorate of Refugees or settlement commandant, or conduct "prejudicial to good order and discipline." The only appeal was to the Directorate of Refugees. The CARA also authorized commandants to use firearms, as necessary, to compel refugees "to comply with any order or direction, whether oral or in writing," although there were no reports of them actually doing so. Commandants often delegated dispute settlement to Refugee Welfare Committees (RWCs) in the settlements and reported directly to the central government rather than to local authorities, making them effectively independent of local control. The powers RWCs exercised were wider than those of the Local Council Courts (LCCs), extending to cases of assault, theft, adultery, and witchcraft. RWCs also imposed fines and awarded damages beyond the authority of LCCs. Although commandants did not always authorize them to do so, RWCs detained refugees for up to 48 hours while they took statements and, in some cases, for months. Most settlements had some facility for detention, in some cases just outside the settlement.

Freedom of Movement and Residence

The CARA authorized the Government to designate where refugees were required to live and made violation of such rules a criminal offense punishable by up to three months imprisonment. At year's end, over 235,000 refugees lived in rural settlements. To leave the settlements, refugees had to obtain written permission from the camp commandant. Some commandants granted permits liberally while others did so in exceptional cases only. In Rhino settlement, refugees had to travel 14 miles (24 km) to obtain a permit.

Refugees caught outside designated settlements without permits risked detention pending trial, police harassment, and demands for bribes. In most areas, refugees who had some form of identification, including national documents from their country of origin or student identification, did not need a permit to travel. More than 20,000 unregistered Sudanese refugees lived in border towns and Kampala. These refugees (and others living outside the settlements in violation of the restrictions on residence) often presented proof of payment of the graduated tax as a travel permit. Outside of Kampala, self-settled refugees lacked identification documents. With the abolition of the graduated tax, refugees lost their only form of official documentation.

Commandants allowed transfers to another settlement only for refugees whose personal safety was at risk. The Government allowed refugees who it granted status in Kampala to remain there if they could prove that they had a job and a place of residence. Host communities and local governments accepted most of them. International travel documents cost about $25 (45,000 shillings) and authorities granted them only if the travel was necessary for an educational or medical purpose. The Refugees Bill would grant refugees the right to move about freely and choose their place of residence "subject to reasonable restrictions."

Right to Earn a Livelihood

In accordance with the Government's Self-Reliance Strategy for refugees, the vast majority of refugees, who lived in designated rural settlements, farmed plots of land allocated to them by the Government. The plots, however, were often too small or of too poor quality to enable the refugees to survive without food rations. Government restrictions on refugees' movement limited their ability to identify more suitable land, effectively restricting them to plots of land infertile due to overuse. Refugees in settlements also traded, raised livestock, and worked in various informal sector jobs.

Like all foreigners, refugees were not able to own land. With written permission from the Ministry of Lands and Environment, however, they could lease land. The Government granted refugees in settlements temporary use rights only.

The CARA authorized employers to hire refugees "at the appropriate rate of wages prevailing in Uganda for the performance of similar work," and forbade employment of refugees in dangerous, unhealthy, and physically unsuitable conditions. The Immigration Department required refugees to obtain work permits, which required submission of a recommendation from the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), proof of a job offer, and proof of refugee status.

The Government tolerated refugees who worked without permits, and most did not obtain permission, especially while residing in rural settlements or for informal sector jobs. Refugees in one northern settlement ran thriving businesses without work permits. Refugees could practice professions if they transferred licenses, academic degrees, or degree credit from institutions in their country of origin. A degree equivalent certificate from the National Examination Board, which would enable a foreign national to practice a profession, cost about $50 (91,000 shillings).

Language barriers and cultural differences presented major obstacles to refugees who sought permits and licenses or tried to use the legal system or otherwise protect themselves from exploitation, discrimination, and harassment. The proposed Refugees Bill would entitle refugees to "receive the same treatment accorded to aliens generally in similar circumstances relating to the right to have access to employment opportunities and engage in gainful employment." The bill would also grant them the right to own property.

Refugees lacked the social security protection of the National Social Security Fund. Uganda maintained a reservation to the 1951 Convention, excluding refugees from any treaty-based preferential treatment that it might afford foreign nationals.

Public Relief and Education

UNHCR and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) provided limited food, health services, and other basic assistance to refugees living in designated settlements. UNHCR and NGOs provided education to refugees only if they live in the designated settlements. As a result, many refugee children were unable to attend schools because they lived too far away. In the West Nile region at newer refugee settlements, children had no education because NGOs had not yet built schools. As part of Uganda's Self-Reliance Strategy, UNHCR and the Government integrated about 300 Sudanese refugees into the Adjumani District public school system. In Kampala, primary schools charged fees that many refugee families could not afford. Uganda's education board refused to recognize high school qualifications from Congo-Kinshasa, effectively barring Congolese refugees from higher education.

The Government generally allowed humanitarian agencies unimpeded access to assist refugees in designated settlements but denied assistance to those living outside. In January, the Government banned Doctors Without Borders (MSF) from the Kyaka II settlement, claiming refugees no longer needed its assistance. MSF asserted that the action was due to its criticism of the lack of assistance in the settlement.

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