U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2007 - Uganda



Refoulement/Physical Protection

Uganda expelled eight refugees and asylum seekers who were from the Democratic Republic of Congo (Congo-Kinshasa), accusing them of subversive activities against their home countries in violation of the 1969 Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa (African Refugee Convention) and giving them 48-hours to leave the country. It did not return them to Congo-Kinshasa. In five other cases, it threatened refugees with deportation, but a Ugandan nongovernmental organization (NGO) intervened on the refugees' behalf and no deportations occurred.

Uganda denied refugee status to about 8,000 Rwandan and Burundian refugees in southern Uganda, and ordered them to depart the country. This population, originally from Rwanda and Burundi, originally fled in 1972 and since then sought refuge in Congo-Kinshasa, Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi, and Rwanda. An estimated five among them died per day because of overcrowding and lack of food. Agents from the neighboring states from which the refugees fled, and refugees reported murders, kidnappings, and disappearances.

Camp commandants flogged members of 11 refugee families in Kyangwali refugee camp and reportedly flogged refugees in Kyaka II and Nakivale settlements as well.

Uganda was party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (1951 Convention), its 1967 Protocol, and the 1969 Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa (African Refugee Convention). It maintained, however, reservations to the 1951 Convention's rights to exemption from reciprocity requirements and exceptional measures, property, association, access to courts, work, and administrative assistance; its allowance of provisional measures; and its restrictions on expulsion (not including refoulement). The 1960 Control of Alien Refugees Act (CARA), which governed the treatment of refugees throughout the year, did not include a refugee definition, except to exclude anyone the minister in charge of refugees declared not to be one, and defined no process for determining refugee status. It did allow refugees to receive permits to remain, however, if their return would result in their trial or punishment for "offences of a political character" or physical attack.

In March, the legislature passed, and in May the President signed, the Refugees Act 2006, which would go into effect in May 2007 and repeal CARA. It would prohibit refoulement and its refugee definition included those of the 1951 Convention and the African Refugee Convention, persons fleeing persecution for not conforming to "gender discriminating practices," and members of groups the minister in charge of refugees declared to meet those criteria. In situations of mass influx, the minister could also allow groups of asylum seekers to remain in the country up to two years with the same rights the Act gave refugees without undergoing status determinations.

Although the 1995 Constitution guaranteed the right to judicial review of administrative decisions, the courts interpreted this to require a statutory provision allowing appeals, meaning asylum seekers could not appeal rejections to the courts. The Refugee Eligibility Committee did not allow asylum seekers to represent themselves in person, deciding based on interviews conducted by police and UNHCR representatives.

Uganda granted prima facie refugee status to asylum seekers from Sudan and eastern Congo-Kinshasa, but held individual status determinations for others.

The Government began repatriation of Sudanese refugees in accordance with the tripartite agreement between Uganda, Sudan, and UNHCR. An outbreak of meningitis suspended the voluntary repatriation temporarily, but it resumed following an immunization program. More than 5,900 Sudanese returned to southern Sudan with assistance, and another 16,400 repatriated on their own.

Detention/Access to Courts

A March survey of five districts in northwestern Uganda conducted by the Refugee Law Project (RLP) at Makerere University found nearly 50 refugees and asylum seekers in prisons either serving sentences or awaiting trial for unlawful entry or presence. It took as long as two years to complete some of their trials. Detention for illegal entry and presence was rarer in areas where RLP had trained local authorities in refugee law; in Kampala, for instance, authorities charged only one refugee with unlawful entry and presence during the year.

At least twice during the year, Uganda rounded up asylum seekers in Kampala who were awaiting adjudication of their claims, detaining perhaps 40. As they had no means of support while their claims were processed, many lived on the street and authorities charged them with being idle and disorderly. In the past, Uganda detained asylum seekers picked up in such sweeps for up to five months, but it released those detained in 2006 within two weeks.

Uganda also detained at least seven asylum seekers it suspected of being combatants from Rwanda, Burundi, and Congo-Kinshasa. UNHCR had full access to detained refugees and asylum seekers. In previous years, Uganda had granted access only to those detained outside Kampala. It also allowed detainees access to lawyers.

Uganda only issued identity cards to refugees in urban areas, but authorities generally recognized the ration cards camp-based refugees received from UNHCR as valid for identification. During 2006, it began to issue identity cards to all refugees over the age of 18.

The Government located refugee settlements as far as 60 miles (100 km) from courts, and refugees required permission to leave them. There were only four police officers in Kyangwali camp, with a refugee population of 19,000, and many crimes went unreported. In the settlements, commandants often delegated dispute settlement to Refugee Welfare Committees (RWCs). Since commandants reported to the central government rather than to local authorities, the RWCs were independent of local control, and exercised wider powers than 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.

In its reservations to the 1951 Convention, Uganda reserved the right not to provide refugees with more legal assistance than it gave foreigners generally. It also reserved the right not to help refugees with their documentation unless UNHCR asked it to and reimbursed it. CARA permitted the minister or the director, "by writing under his hand," to detain refugees as "unconvicted prisoner[s]" if it appeared likely to them that they had committed an offence in another country which, if committed in Uganda, would be punishable with imprisonment.

Under CARA, the director or settlement commandants could confine refugees in settlement lockups for up to 30 days or fine them up to 200 shillings (12 cents) for "disciplinary offences," including leaving the settlement without permission, disobeying any order or direction of the director or of settlement commandants, or conducting themselves "in a manner prejudicial to good order and discipline."

Refugees sentenced to more than 14 days confinement or to fines greater than 100 shillings for disciplinary offences could appeal to the director but no further. Settlement commandants or authorized officers could arrest refugees without a warrant if they had reasonable grounds for suspecting them of disciplinary offences and could detain them pending proceedings. CARA authorized settlement commandants or anyone under their authority to use "firearms, as may be necessary to compel any refugee to comply with any order or direction, whether oral or in writing, given pursuant to the provisions of this Act." It also provided that no act or omission by anyone performing a duty under the Act could subject him "to any liability, action, claim or demand whatever."

CARA required all refugees to have permits attesting to their status and authorized officers to deny permits for any reason except where the refugees' return put them at risk of physical attack or punishment for a political offense. Refugees without the permits were liable for up to three month's imprisonment. The Refugees Act would provide that recognized refugees "shall ... be issued with an identity card in a prescribed form stating the refugee status of the holder for purposes of identification and protection."

Freedom of Movement and Residence

Uganda required most refugees and asylum seekers to live in designated settlements and limited material aid to camp residents. To leave, refugees required permits from camp commandants specifying the destination, purpose, and number of days of travel and the date of return. Camp commandants varied in how liberal they were in granting permits but the Directorate of Refugees could extend the number of days of travel if the refugee could not travel within the time specified. In Rhino refugee settlement, refugees had to travel 14 miles (8 km) to request a permit. The Directorate of Refugees allowed about 5,000 refugees to live outside the settlements but could exercise this discretion stringently based on physical or legal protection, health, or other compelling reasons, and the refugees had to sign a statement pledging never to seek state or UN assistance. Around 20,000 unregistered refugees, however, mostly Congolese and Sudanese, lived in and near Kampala.

With the approval of the Directorate of Refugees, authorities reportedly forcibly transferred from Kyangwali to Nakivale 11 families of refugee leaders who attempted to challenge administrative actions by the camp commandants.

Refugees in urban areas received identity documents that allowed them to move freely, but refugees in the settlements only received food ration cards that were not valid for travel. Only heads of households received the card, which left many refugees with no form of identification at all.

Recognized refugees had to apply for international travel documents through UNHCR and the Government, which for most of 2006, approved only if refugees could prove international travel was necessary and imminent. The Government also charged a fee for them equal to the fees for Ugandan passports. Under a new UNHCR protection officer in late 2006, however, every refugee who applied for one received one.

CARA permitted the Director of Refugee Affairs to establish refugee settlements and appoint commandants in charge of them and authorized the minister in charge of refugees, "by order in writing," to require refugees to live in them and to use "such supplementary or incidental provisions" as the minister "may deem necessary or expedient" to control refugees' movements. It also empowered regional police commanders with discretionary authority to issue the permits necessary for refugees to remain in the country on condition refugees lived where they specified. Refugees who violated these provisions were subject to three months imprisonment. CARA forbade refugees from leaving the country without informing the authorities or from going anywhere "other than the territory in which he resided prior to entering" without the permission of the director or the Principal Immigration Officer, subject to imprisonment for three months.

Right to Earn a Livelihood

Refugees required permits to work legally. The encampment policy prevented many professionals from seeking employment in their field.

Within the refugee settlements, the Government allowed refugees to farm, but the plots were too small for commercial farming. Uganda did not allow foreigners, including refugees, to own land without express permission of the Minister of Land and Environment, but did allow them to lease land for up to 49 years.

The 11 refugee families transferred from Kyangwali to Nakivale settlements forfeited their crops in the field, their harvests in their stores, and business establishments.

In its reservations to the 1951 Convention, Uganda reserved the right to abridge refugees' property rights "without recourse to courts of law or arbitral tribunals, national or international," if it deemed it in the public interest. It also reserved the right to deny them freedom of association and rights to work it might grant nationals of states with special treaties, such as those of the East African Community. CARA provided that "Arrangements may be made for offering employment to refugees" but required that employers pay "the appropriate rate of wages prevailing in Uganda for the performance of similar work" and expressly provided "it shall not be obligatory to pay a refugee for any employment in connection with the administration, internal arrangement or maintenance of refugee settlements."

CARA permitted the Director of Refugees, administrative officers or settlement commandants to seize any vehicle that refugees used to enter the country and to authorize its use moving refugees or stores or equipment for their use. It barred refugees from bringing any action "either for the taking or use [of their vehicles] or for any damage done thereto or for any loss occasioned thereby."

Public Relief and Education

Uganda did not prevent humanitarian organizations from operating within refugee settlements but denied services to refugees living outside them. Sanitation, water supplies, health services, and education in the settlements were not up to international standards, but refugees generally had services on par with nationals in their areas. Ugandans could attend schools in refugee settlements, and benefited from health services in them as well.

Uganda provided free primary education to refugee children, but required refugees to pay for secondary or tertiary education. During 2006, UNHCR ceased financial support for secondary education.

The Government promoted a Self-Reliance Strategy that would phase out food distribution. In some areas where the land was especially fertile, refugees farming in the settlements were able to achieve considerable self-sufficiency.

The 2005 Poverty Eradication Action Plan (2004/5-2007/8) the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development prepared for international donors dealt with refugees as a disaster to manage, but highlighted Uganda's moves toward self-reliance for refugees and allowed that refugees could "become an asset to the country." The Plan noted, however, "Being an emergency issue, expenditure on refugees is not treated as part of the [Medium Term Expenditure Framework]." The latter included the goal of increasing growth to seven percent by removing bureaucratic barriers to investment; improving transportation infrastructure and utilities; modernization and commercialization of agriculture; improving rural access to finance and strengthening small and medium-sized businesses; and enhanced environmental sustainability.


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