U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2005 - Uganda



Refoulement/Asylum  There were no confirmed cases of refoulement, although there were reports that the Government deported refugees from Rwanda and Congo-Kinshasa. The Government recognized 14,000 Sudanese and 1,500 Congolese as prima facie refugees. The 1960 Control of Alien Refugees Act (CARA) forbade forcibly returning 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 did not enact the proposed 2003 Refugees Bill (Refugees Bill) which would adopt standards consistent with the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (1951 Convention) and the 1969 African Refugee Convention.

The Refugee Eligibility Committee (REC) conducted refugee status determinations, granting about 95 percent of cases it decided. The REC did not conduct inperson asylum interviews but reviewed written applications and the notes from interviews conducted by the police and sometimes the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The police rarely conducted interviews in private settings or used interpreters.

The CARA did not grant the right to appeal asylum decisions. The REC allowed refugees to challenge its decisions but did not provide specific reasons for denials and reviewed those challenges itself. The proposed Refugees Bill would create a separate Appeals Board. The Government forbade legal representation before the REC, though it permitted counsel to submit written petitions in challenges. The Constitution granted the right to appeal administrative decisions to a court of law, and 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. The court ruled against the refugee. UNHCR monitored the REC, but UNHCR conducted the initial asylum interviews and therefore was not wholly objective.

At the end of 2004, the Government had not yet resolved the status of about 7,000 Rwandans living in the southwest, the majority of whom had been recognized as refugees in Tanzania but fled to Uganda fearing that the Tanzania would force them back to Rwanda. Some might have participated in the 1994 Rwandan genocide and been ineligible for refugee status.

In April, attacks by the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) forced up to 25,000 Sudanese refugees in Adjumani District to flee and 500 to return to southern Sudan.

Detention  The Government occasionally detained 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 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 their status as refugees or asylum seekers was verified.

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

In Kampala, the Government provided recognized refugees identification documents and refugee permits. Those recognized on a prima facie basis or granted formal status 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.

Right to Earn a Livelihood  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. Employers were required to pay for the permit, which cost $150 to $200 (300,000 to 400,000 shillings).

The Government tolerated refugees working 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 in Uganda, cost about $50.

The proposed Refugees Bill would entitle refu-gees 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 might be afforded to foreign nationals.

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. Refugees in settlements also traded, raised livestock, and worked in various informal sector jobs.

Like all foreigners, refugees were not able to own land but, with written permission from the Ministry of Lands and Environment, they could lease it. The Government granted refugees in settlements temporary use rights only. In October 2004, a conflict arose between refugees and nationals because the Government failed to acquire legally the land for the Nakivale refugee settlement.

Freedom of Movement and Residence  The CARA authorized the Government to designate where refugees could live and made violation of such rules a criminal offense punishable by up to three months in prison. At year's end, over 200,000 refugees lived in rural settlements. To leave the settlements, refugees were required to obtain written permission from camp commandants. Some commandants granted permits liberally while others did so in exceptional cases only. In Rhino camp settlement, refugees had to travel 14 miles (24 km) to obtain permits.

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.

Commandants allowed transfers to another settlement only for refugees whose personal safety was at risk. The Government allowed refugees who were granted status in Kampala to remain in Kampala if they could prove that they had a job and a place of residence. International travel documents cost about $25 and officials granted them only if travel was necessary for educational or medical purposes. The Refugees Bill would allow refugees to move about freely and choose their place of residence "subject to reasonable restrictions."

Public Relief and Education UNHCR and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) provided education to refugees, but many refugee children were unable to attend schools because they lived too far away or in border regions subject to LRA attacks. 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.

UNHCR and NGOs provided limited food, healthcare, and other basic assistance to refugees living in designated settlements. UNHCR and the World Food Programme (WFP) gradually phased out rations to refugees in some settlements. Many refugees who arrived before 2001 received half of the rations given to recent arrivals, based on the assumption that they could farm to supplement their rations.

Refugees in the Yumbe District settlement in the West Nile region received high quality health services that also drew nationals. In the Kyaka II settlement, however, the health clinic was understaffed and health workers did not speak French, the language of the Congolese refugee population. In some rural areas, outside the refugee settlements, the Government excluded refugees from healthcare and other services. In Kampala, however, refugees and nationals had access to the same free health clinics.

The Government generally allowed humanitarian agencies to assist refugees in designated settlements but denied assistance to those living outside them. In January 2005, the government banned Doctors Without Borders (MSF) from the Kyaka II settlement, claiming that its assistance was no longer needed. MSF asserted that the Government asked MSF workers to leave because they had criticized the lack of assistance in the settlement.

Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)  The LRA continued to wage a brutal guerilla war in the north, increasing attacks on government soldiers, villages, and refugee settlements. The LRA committed numerous atrocities, including rape, murder, torture, and kidnapping of civilians, primarily children. During the year, the LRA attacked IDP camps and villages in the Acholi, Teso, and Lango regions, killing more than 400 civilians, abducting more than 100, displacing hundreds of thousands, and burning more than 850 homes. One attack upon the Barlonyo camp in Lira District, likely by the LRA, left more than 300 dead.

Some 10,000 people protested the lack of protection in the camps, eliciting a rare apology from President Museveni for the failure of the Uganda People's Defence Forces (UPDF) to stop the massacre. In addition to the LRA, Karamojong warriors attacked civilians and stole their cattle. In October, overcrowded conditions and an inadequate water and sanitation system in Pabbo camp, Gulu District, resulted in an outbreak of cholera. Security improved slightly at the end of 2004 when the Government announced a limited cease-fire in northern Uganda.

In February, the parliament declared the north a humanitarian disaster area, but the OPM said the declaration was unnecessary, thus limiting the amount of aid available. The Government deployed UPDF detachments to IDP camps, but the UPDF was unable to protect the civilians from attacks. The UPDF forces also committed human rights violations, including destruction of crops, forced labor, torture, and harassment.

Due to LRA attacks and abductions, IDPs were confined to designated camps and "protected villages." At year's end, Uganda had more than 1.3 million IDPs living in about 200 IDP camps, protected villages, or urban centers. In Acholi region, 80 percent of the Gulu District population and possibly 95 percent of the population of Kitgum and Pader Districts were living in IDP camps. About 75 percent of residents in northern Uganda relied on WFP food assistance, and about 23 percent of school-age children were not attending school. Women and children fled abduction in rural regions by commuting long distances at night to town centers. These "night commuters" were vulnerable to rape, sexual harassment, early pregnancy, and disease.

Those who moved outside of the camps to farm risked LRA abduction and attacks or being shot in crossfire. In 2004, UPDF began moving IDPs from smaller rural settlements into larger urban camps in order to improve security and assistance. The Government relocated 20,000 IDPs from Pabbo, north of Gulu town, to two newly established camps to decongest Pabbo camp.

Inside the camps, IDPs lacked protection, water, sanitation facilities, and healthcare, and remained vulnerable to further LRA attacks. Cholera, malaria, diarrhea and acute respiratory infections were endemic. Aid agencies predicted an HIV/AIDS outbreak. The insecurity, confinement to camps, and limited freedom of movement prevented most economic activity in the affected regions.

Copyright 2005, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants


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