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Jul-19-2010 13:32printcomments

Uganda Forces More Than 1,700 Refugees Back to Rwanda

“This operation by the Rwandan and Ugandan governments completely disregards the rights of refugees who have well-founded fears of returning to Rwanda” - Bill Frelick, director of the Refugee Program at Human Rights Watch

Rwandan refugees in Darfur
Rwandan refugees in Darfur photographed in 2009. Courtesy: survivorsnetworks.blogspot.com

(PORTLAND, Ore.) - Reports indicate on July 14th and 15th more than 1,700 Rwandan refugees from both Nakivale and Kyaka camps were forcibly rounded up and sent back to Rwanda by the Ugandan and Rwandan police.

Announcing food distribution, and information on the outcome of asylum appeals many began gathering around the trucks in the hope of attaining either. Police and camp commanders then forced the Rwandans onto the trucks at gunpoint using the deception and deceit. As the people realized what was happening panic arose and shots were fired.

According to reports, two people died after jumping off the trucks in an attempt to escape the forced removal and at least 25 were injured. A number of children were also separated from their parents.

UNHCR reported that its staff were told to leave the camps when officials began rounding up the refugees. The appearance given is Rwandan and Ugandan governments worked jointly to organize the forced repatriation and bypassed the UN agency.

The Rwandan government has long sought the return of refugees from neighboring countries and has exerted pressure on governments in the region to cooperate.

In addition to Uganda, both Burundi and Tanzania have forcibly returned refugees without considering individual cases on several occasions over the last few years. This has led to fears of continued forced repatriation throughout the region.

According to the UN refugee agency, Uganda is home to more than 15,000 Rwandan refugees, some fled Rwanda in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide; others arrived more recently, including in 2009 and 2010. Most live in Nakivale and Kyaka, in difficult conditions.

In recent months, they have been denied access to land to cultivate crops as part of a series of measures to persuade them to return to Rwanda.

“Mass forcible return of refugees and asylum seekers fundamentally violates Uganda’s international obligations,” said Bill Frelick, director of the Refugee Program at Human Rights Watch. “The Ugandan government is supposed to protect people seeking asylum in Uganda, not endanger them.”

Tarsis Kabwegyere, the Ugandan minister in charge of disaster preparedness and refugees, has been quoted in the media as claiming that only rejected asylum seekers were sent back. However, witnesses said that no effort was made to distinguish amongst those forced onto the trucks, and that those sent back.

UNHCR issued a statement confirming that “recognized refugees were among those returned.”

Human Rights Watch urged the Ugandan government to ensure that all Rwandan asylum seekers remaining in Uganda have access to a fair individual procedure that determines their refugee status and respects their rights.

“This operation by the Rwandan and Ugandan governments completely disregards the rights of refugees who have well-founded fears of returning to Rwanda,” Frelick said. “These events are going to cause panic among Rwandan refugees and asylum seekers remaining in Uganda and in other neighboring countries that they too may be forced back against their will.”

Sources: Human Rights Watch, Leslie Haskell Rwanda Researcher

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Alysha Atma spends many hours working on projects that support and benefit the beleaguered people of African nations who spend way too much time off the western media's radar. This writer explains that she is a culmination of all her experiences, most importantly knowledge she says, and all that she still needs to learn; lessons of love, laughter and the extraordinary giving of both young and old. She says she has the enormous fortune of learning from the best; every person around her, and the amazing strength and fortitude of those she has never met but will always strive to listen to. "I continue to work and write because I believe in the power of community and the power of one, both contradictory to each other and yet can move together in a very powerful way. I feel a responsibility to use my place, freedoms and connections here in the US to stand up and yell for those who need my voice and actions. I have seen such strength in my fellow humans that I cannot even begin to comprehend, they have traveled distances, have gone without food, water, shelter and safety for days and weeks at a time. I have a responsibility as a fellow human to put our common humanity before anything else. Everyone deserves to look towards tomorrow, to dream of a safe future and to have a peaceful present." You can write to Alysha Atma at: alyshann78@comcast.net




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