As foreign nationals, refugees relinquish certain rights when they leave their native land. They are not permitting to vote or participate in the political system, for example. However, these should be the exception rather than the rule; refugees are entitled to the same rights as the nationals in the hosting nation according to the UN Convention and Protocol as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Otherwise, the disadvantaged would become entirely disenfranchised and have an inability to access even the most basic mechanisms of justice. Refugees in Uganda can only receive assistance in the settlement camps, which place significant limitations on their rights. The government provides two options to asylum seekers: 1) go to the settlement once refugee status is granted or 2) return to your country. An asylum seeker who flees over the border but refuses to register for refugee status (because of an unwillingness to move to the camp) can be considered an illegal alien, which exposes him/her to arrest and deportation.
You are a Congolese national fleeing conflict. You speak the same local language as the people just over the border of Uganda. You are from the same tribe with the same culture and traditions. You even have a few relatives who happened to reside on the Uganda side when the borders were demarcated (superficially imposed) on your people. But because of the “security risk” that foreigners impose, you must now make an impossible choice between living in fear in the Congo and living in extremely difficult and cramped conditions in a remote settlement without freedom of movement. You must choose between being economically self-sufficient at home listening to gunshots or being dependent on international donors for your next meal. What of your family’s future, of your land to be inherited by future generations? What about the exposure to sexual violence at the settlements? What about the security risks that result from the structure of the camp as an entry point for (coercive) rebel recruitment? Why should someone who shares the same language and culture of a tribe in Uganda be considered a threat? If you have family or friends to support you just over the border, why should you be forced to relocate to the settlement camps (where there is no such support network)? These are a few of the underlying issues that galvanize the need to challenge the current stringent settlement policy both through impact litigation and advocacy efforts.
I have recently returned from two weeks of field research conducted in Western Uganda. We serendipitously stumbled upon the most beautiful spot in Uganda, on the top of a hill overlooking a town set in the mountains. Sitting on the steps of this church, listening to the echoes of children in choir practice, and watching others gleefully linking hands in a circle, I gazed out at the stunning panoramic view extremely conscious that I reached a summit of my summer both literally and figuratively. I am leaving Uganda very soon (this is my twelfth and final week here), but my heart now carries a piece of its struggles, ethos, eccentricities and hopes.
Posted By Eun Ha Kim (Uganda)
Posted Aug 9th, 2005