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IRIN - Uganda


Suffering Syrians, trapped Venezuelans, and a Ugandan refugee swindle: The Cheat Sheet

Fri, 09 Feb 2018 18:29:19 +0000

Every week, IRIN’s team of specialist editors scans the humanitarian horizon to curate a reading list on important and unfolding trends and events around the globe:   From bad to worse in Syria’s de-escalation zones   Late last month, IRIN analyst Aron Lund warned of the beginning of a new wave of displacement in northwestern Syria thanks to dual offensives by the government of President Bashar al-Assad and Turkey. But since then it’s been “going from bad to worse” in rebel-held Idlib, warns Save the Children, telling how a displacement camp has been bombed, leaving terrified people with nowhere safe to go. And in the nearby Kurdish enclave of Afrin, tens of thousands more people have been displaced since 20 January alone. In besieged Eastern Ghouta, which like Idlib was designated as a “de-escalation zone” in a deal hatched last May in Astana, hundreds of children are said to be in urgent need of medical evacuation, food prices are soaring, and monitors and opposition activists say 200 civilians have been killed in four days of government airstrikes. What is left for civilians in the Astana deal that was supposed to wind down years of horrific violence in Syria? The head of the UN’s Commission of Inquiry on Syria said this week that the recent violence had made a “mockery of the de-escalation zones”. The Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for Syria, Panos Moumtzis, went further, declaring: “humanitarian diplomacy is failing”.   No exit: Venezuela’s neighbours close the door   Our never-cheery New Year listicle of humanitarian crises to watch out for warned that regional hospitality could soon wear thin as Venezuela’s neighbours felt the strain of more than a million newcomers. Fast forward less than six weeks and events have already overshot our gloomiest predictions. On a visit Thursday to Cúcuta, where hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans take their first steps on Colombian soil, President Juan Manuel Santos announced a raft of tough new measures: temporary permits allowing Venezuelans to cross over and return at will for vital trade, food, and medicines would be scrapped; those already in Colombia would have 90 days to register with officials before becoming “illegal”. At roughly the same time, 1,500 kilometres to the southeast, in the first town through the Brazilian escape route, Boa Vista, Defence Minister Raul Jungmann closed the door a little further: more troops would be deployed to the border; Venezuelans in the frontier region would be relocated to Brazil’s interior. Meanwhile, the extent of the humanitarian crisis brewing inside Venezuela, where malnutrition and diseases like malaria are reportedly on the rise, is getting harder to ascertain. Journalists are finding it harder to report on sensitive issues as President Nicolás Maduro becomes increasingly authoritarian ahead of snap April elections. With the International Monetary Fund predicting 13,000% inflation this year and the fallout from the election still ahead, these may soon be seen as the good times. In his comments in Cúcuta, Santos laid the blame squarely at Maduro’s door and challenged him to start accepting international humanitarian aid. Watch this space.   Inflated numbers: Ugandan refugee record tarnished   The Ugandan government has suspended five senior officials for allegedly inflating refugee figures to swindle donor funds. But the scandal could yet be worse, with additional allegations that refugee women in the north of the country have been trafficked back into South Sudan and sold as “wives”. Apollo Kazungu, Uganda’s commissioner for refugees, and members of his staff have been accused of colluding with officials from the UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) and the World Food Programme to fiddle the numbers. Millions of dollars in aid are believed to have been lost as a result, the Guardian reported. The EU, which provides funding to the two agencies, is investigating the charges. Uganda claims to house 1.4 million refugees, a million of whom have fled the ongoing c[...]

Prison or deportation: The impossible choice for asylum seekers in Israel

Wed, 31 Jan 2018 12:43:19 +0000

Just two months from now, the Israeli government says it will begin indefinitely imprisoning asylum seekers who refuse deportation. IRIN Middle East Editor Annie Slemrod explores what this means for the tens of thousands of people now facing an uncertain future.   After escaping torture in Sudan, after walking 11 hours through the Egyptian desert, and after handing almost all his money to men with guns who blocked his way, Adam slipped through an opening in a border fence and laid down on the sand.   The respite didn’t last long.   The 24-year-old told every Israeli official he met – first soldiers, then officials at a detention centre – that he was seeking safe haven.   It didn’t go down well, as Adam recounts calmly from his Tel Aviv kitchen table.   “I told them, ‘I’m a refugee’. They said, ‘we don’t have a place for refugees here’.”   “I asked for the UN… They said, ‘here in Israel we don’t have the UN’.”   “I said, ‘so let me go back’. They said, ‘no’.”   Little did he know it would go so badly that four years later he would be labelled an infiltrator and that, as an unmarried, childless male with no official refugee status, he would be high on the list for deportation.   Adam, who told IRIN he was tortured in prison in Sudan for refusing to fight in the military, has fallen foul of a new Israeli government plan to rid the country of the 38,000 African asylum seekers inside its borders.   A new policy The government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Tel Aviv has been overrun by “illegal infiltrators” who, it maintains, are largely responsible for driving up poverty and crime in working class southern parts of the city.   Starting the first of April, the government says it will give the asylum seekers – more than 90 percent are from Sudan and Eritrea – the choice between prison and “voluntary” deportation. Those who agree to leave will be given $3,500 (this sum will decrease after 1 April) and reportedly then be sent to Rwanda or Uganda, although both governments have denied entering into agreements with Israel.   Asylum seekers began making the trek to Israel in the mid-2000s. Between then and 2014, when the country fortified its border with Egypt, Israel’s policy towards new arrivals has changed often. It gave them visas – renewable every few months – that read, “this permit is not a work permit”, but opted not to fine employers who hire them. It sent men to indefinite detention in a series of centres, until the high court limited this to a year in 2015. It has also paid asylum seekers to leave the country – reportedly via secret deals with Rwanda and Uganda (believed to be the destinations in this latest push). Forced deportations haven’t been officially announced, but at least one of Netanyahu’s ministers has said they’re on the table. When he announced the new policy at a January cabinet meeting, Netanyahu spoke of the “plight of the long-time residents” and said his new deportation plan was aimed at, “restoring quiet – the sense of personal security and law and order – to the residents of south Tel Aviv, and also those of many other neighbourhoods”. Welcome to the medina South Tel Aviv has become a hive of controversy – and a useful rhetorical tool for politicians – because the government and some locals (but not all) blame poverty and deteriorating conditions on the influx of African asylum seekers, even though one official report suggests state neglect was largely to blame. Most did not choose this city anyway. With a dark sense of humour, and a bit of profanity, Adam explains what his one-way ticket to the Central Bus Station in the south of Tel Aviv was like. Mya Guarnieri/IRIN African asylum seekers sleep in a Tel Aviv park in 2012 After being apprehended at the border – an incident that involved running from a searchlight, losing his shoes, and an act of kindness when a soldier gave[...]

UN bid to improve migrant, refugee response flounders as political will evaporates

Mon, 10 Jul 2017 13:26:54 +0000

More than a year after the United Nations embarked on an ambitious project to draw up two international “compacts” to better respond to unprecedented migration and refugee crises, the progress report is less than stellar.   Experts following the negotiations worry that, despite such a large undertaking, the compacts are still too little, too late. Among key concerns are that their non-binding nature weakens the promise of responsibility-sharing (already evidenced by underfunded pilot projects), and that they will merely reinforce the status quo rather than bring about any tangible improvements for forcibly displaced people.   Part of this is due to a dramatically transformed political climate. In September 2016, US President Barack Obama was leading the charge – following a global outpouring of concern over the humanitarian emergency in the Mediterranean Sea – for radical change in the way the world addresses these issues.   “I called this summit because this crisis is one of the most urgent tests of our time,” Obama said at the UN last year. “Just as failure to act in the past – for example, by turning away Jews fleeing Nazi Germany – is a stain on our collective conscience, I believe history will judge us harshly if we do not rise to this moment.”   At last year’s UN General Assembly, all 193 member states adopted the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, which was the starting point for discussions on two global compacts: one for refugees and another for migrants. Fourteen months later, as the US under President Donald Trump abandons its leadership role on refugees, and after German Chancellor Angela Merkel has paid a heavy price for her pro-refugee policies, the compacts risk becoming little more than talk and, without charismatic champions, rudderless in the face of strong political headwinds.   Indeed, far-right parties have made gains across Europe as the EU and its member states strike deals with Libya and Turkey to ensure desperate migrants cannot reach European shores. Australia continues to hold refugees in offshore prisons. And, in the Middle East, countries that have hosted Syrian refugees for years are starting to force them back home. Even if the compacts do cajole UN member states into recommitting to upholding refugee and migrant rights, the anti-migrant, anti-refugee policies they pursue could still undermine the compacts’ intent.   “I’m not saying there will be no positive outcomes,” explained Jeff Crisp, former policy chief at the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR. “But consensus at the level of agreeing to a document is not the same as actually doing practical things to make it a reality.” Mark Garten/UN Photo Imvepi Refugee Settlement in Arua District, Northern Uganda What is the CRRF?   Amidst many still-vague ideas for the compacts, the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework, or CRRF, sticks out for its concrete objectives. Outlined in the annex of the New York Declaration, the framework aims to “provide for a more comprehensive, predictable and sustainable response that benefits both refugees and their hosts, rather than responding to refugee displacement through a purely, and often underfunded, humanitarian lens.” Ideally, this will be the modus operandi for all refugee crises going forward.   The CRRF contains four broad, ambitious and noncontroversial objectives: to ease pressure on host countries; to build refugees’ self-reliance; to expand refugee resettlement and other legal pathways to third countries; and to create conditions where refugees can voluntarily return to their home countries.   In refugee-hosting countries, this “whole-of-society” approach should draw on partners not typically involved in humanitarian responses, such as the private sector and development actors like the World Bank. Under the CRRF, refugees are not supposed to languish in camps. Rather, they should be integrated into local la[...]

End of Joseph Kony hunt breeds frustration and fear

Wed, 26 Apr 2017 17:44:30 +0000

Uganda and the United States have ended a six-year hunt for elusive warlord Joseph Kony and his notorious Lord’s Resistance Army.   But calling off the mission, focused on Central African Republic, has left the commander of Ugandan forces in the country frustrated and advocacy groups concerned that the failure to “kill or capture” Kony could see the insurgency rebound.   Uganda began withdrawing its officially 2,500 troops from their base in eastern CAR last week. The pull out of 100 US special forces, who worked alongside the Ugandan soldiers, began today.   The mission, known as the African Union Regional Taskforce (AU-RT), was almost from the start a wholly Ugandan affair.   Frustration   It was supposed to have been 5,000-strong, drawing troops from South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the CAR. But the neighbouring countries, with security problems of their own, either never deployed or quickly withdrew their contingents.   The task force failed to win donor funding, and Uganda ended up footing the bill. Since 2011, armed US special forces advisors have provided intelligence and logistics support.   Colonel Richard Otto is the commander of Uganda’s contingent in the CAR. At his divisional headquarters in Uganda’s northern city of Gulu, the amiable, decorated, former senior military intelligence officer, explained the difficulty of his three-year posting.   “In CAR, the area we are operating in is almost the size of Uganda. You can imagine [the vastness], and I don’t have enough troops,” he told IRIN.   The task force was drawn from all units of the Ugandan army, but may not have exceeded 1,500 men, according to media reports.   Hiding out   CAR has been the perfect hideaway for the LRA. It has been convulsed by violence since 2013, when a predominantly Muslim coalition of rebels known as the Séléka overthrew the government. The UN mission, MINUSCA, has been unable to end ongoing violence between Christian militia and the former Séléka.           “The armed forces of CAR are yet to be organised,” said Otto, who before his deployment in CAR served as chief operations planner with African Union forces in Somalia.   “Some of them are undergoing training by [the] UN [and the] European Union Training Mission, and they are not yet deployed in the eastern part of the country.” The lawlessness of the CAR has attracted not only “Séléka” from neighbouring Chad, but also the “Janjaweed” militia from Sudan’s Darfur region coming in to poach elephants, among other armed men.   “We have quite a number of armed groups,” said Otto. “So, when you encounter them in the jungle, sometimes it’s difficult to know whether you are fighting LRA or other [forces].”   But the Ugandan troops have recorded significant successes. Four key LRA commanders have been captured, and an insurgency of 2,000 fighters that terrorised a huge swathe of territory across central Africa has been sharply degraded.   On the run   The LRA, now believed to be down to less than 120 armed men, has splintered into small units operating in the remotest regions of eastern CAR, northeastern Congo, and Darfur.   “The enemy is permanently on the run,” said Otto, claiming that there had been a steady trickle of defections and that “over 1,000 civilians” that were abducted by the LRA had been rescued.   Kony, wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity, has a $5 million bounty on his head. He is believed to be hiding in the Kafia-Kingi enclave, a disputed border area between Sudan and South Sudan.    Khartoum is not a member of the regional task force and, as a historical supporter of the LRA, appears to have given Kony safe haven.   But, crucially, he no longer leads his men. “He has lost command, control, and communication,” said Otto. “For the first time, the LRA has factions. There is a group… who has decided to leave [the] LRA and o[...]

South Sudanese refugees struggling to survive in Uganda’s cities

Wed, 12 Apr 2017 16:40:13 +0000

If you are a refugee, then Uganda is one of the better places to be. Refugees and asylum seekers are entitled to work, have freedom of movement, and can access social services – a progressive policy much-lauded by the international community.   But while in theory refugees don’t have to remain trapped in vast camps on the country’s borders, the reality is that many don’t have the skills or wherewithal to find work or set up businesses outside of sprawling refugee settlements.   Uganda is now sheltering over a million refugees and asylum seekers. More than 800,000 are South Sudanese, and 572,000 of that number are new arrivals who have escaped their country’s civil war and growing food crisis since July last year.   The vast majority are housed in refugee settlements in Uganda’s north. There they are allocated plots of land and given materials to build a basic home, as well as food aid and access to basic health and education services.   “The refugee policy in Uganda is that you get assistance when you are in the settlement,” explained Moses Nsubuga from the Refugee Law Project, a Kampala-based NGO. “The moment you leave the settlement and choose to live in an urban centre like Kampala, they expect you to fend for yourself.”   Time to run   Kampala is now home to 90,000 refugees and asylum seekers mainly from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi and Somalia. According to the government, numbers have increased by more than 20 percent since last year.   South Sudanese, who through 60 years of turmoil have long had links to Uganda, number around 10,776, according to the prime minister's office.   Joyce Keji* fled South Sudan for Uganda with her four children when fighting between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and then First Vice President Riek Machar re-ignited in July 2016.   The final straw was when her home in the capital, Juba, was looted by government soldiers, and her life was threatened.   “They went inside and broke the wardrobe, took things from my children’s rooms, the mattresses and took the keys for the car,” she recalled. “They took everything.”   While her husband, an engineer, stayed behind in Juba, Joyce headed to the Ugandan capital with her children. But it’s been tough to establish herself in Kampala. Living with a friend, she does cleaning jobs to get by, but it’s hardly enough.   “At the time I arrived it was hard for me. I didn’t know the place, and everything was difficult,” she told IRIN. “Now at least I am getting used to it [but] we are suffering. The security is fine, but hunger is there.”    Salon skills   Keji was a market trader in Juba, so has a business background. To break through in Kampala, she is pinning her hopes on a hairdressing training programme she has enrolled on, run by the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS).   Inside the cramped JRS training salon, groups get to grips with plaiting and weaving techniques while others volunteer to be models for the latest styling lesson.   “My hope is to do the course, and when I succeed and have finished learning, I want to open my own salon and earn some money,” said Keji. But without capital, it remains a long-term goal.   Training courses can help new arrivals to take advantage of the country’s progressive refugee policy. But any notion that it’s easy for urban refugees to get on their feet would be a mistake. "The fact is that the majority of refugees in Uganda live at subsistence level," according to David Kigozi of the International Refugee Rights Initiative. Chris Matthews/IRIN Trying to get ahead Mean streets   The challenges of surviving the city are something Keji’s fellow student, Beatrice Taban*, who came from South Sudan last year with her aunt, is acutely aware of.   Her mother and sisters live in a refugee settlement and the 25-year-old has not seen them in almost a [...]