More than 1000 Ugandans living in areas neighbouring Kyangwali refugee settlement were forced to attain refugee status in order to retain ‘ownership’ of their land.
The scheme was reportedly crafted by Charles Bafaki, the principal resettlement officer in the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), Jolly Kebirungi, the camp commandant Kyangwali refugee settlement area, in the newly created Kikuube district and Lutaaya Vianney from ministry of Lands.
Birungi Asiimwe, one of the affected residents says the officers with the help of police and soldiers, tortured residents and forced them to sign up as refugees on their own land, after which they were issued with cards confirming them as refugees. The pink cards, seen by URN, have a stamp from the Office of the Prime Minister classifying residents as Kyangwali refugee settlement area members.
According to the residents, the issuance of the refugee cards to Ugandans started in November 2018. This is around the same time that the Office of the Prime Minister announced a plan to expand the boundaries of the camp, which would provide more land for the resettlement of refugees.
Nestroy Tumwesigye, a resident of Bukinda in Kyangwali sub-county explains that those who declined to denounce their citizenship for refugee status were harassed and had their land annexed to the resettlement land, which is reserved for refugees.
Each refugee in Uganda is entitled to a 50 by 50ft plot of land for cultivation and settlement, materials for construction of a shelter and daily food rations for a period of at least one year.
Although they have a right to work, do business, and freely move around the country, the refugees cannot own the land they cultivate, or the homes they live in, according to the terms of the 2006 Refugees Act. This makes the Ugandan nationals vulnerable to eviction if their refugee status elapses.
The move could also delineate their children and grandchildren who cannot be granted Ugandan citizenship because, under the constitution, citizenship is out of reach for all those with a parent or grandparent who was a refugee within the Ugandan boundaries at any given time.
The residents now want the officers investigated by the State House Anti-corruption unit headed by Lt. Col. Edith Nakalema for allegedly turning them into refugees on their own land. They accused the government of favouring refugees at the expense of Ugandans, adding that efforts to better the lives of refugees have rendered Ugandans landless in their own country.
The residents have already handed over the exhibits to Lt. Col Nakalema to help her start up investigations against the two officers. Last week a team of investigators led by Nakalema, stormed Kyangwali refugee settlement area to investigate the prevailing land conflict in the area and assured them of a concrete report after her investigations.
In 2013, more than 60,000 so-called “encroachers”, Ugandan nationals who settled on land earmarked for refugees, were forcibly evicted from the Kyangwali refugee settlement in central-western Uganda to make way for new arrivals from DRC.
The families later sued the government, claiming to have lived with refugees since the 1960’s when the refugee resettlement was started.