Uganda forcibly returned 1 700 Rwandan asylum-seekers and refugees from two camps in the south-west of the country, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said on Friday, condemning the action that left two men dead.
“The UNHCR deplores this week’s forced returns of Rwandans from Uganda,” said Melissa Fleming, spokesperson at the office of the UNHCR.
“On Wednesday July 14, Ugandan police mounted an operation to round up and deport 1 700 people from the Nakivale and Kyaka refugee settlements in south-western Uganda,” she said.
“We are very concerned about further deportations. There are reports from refugees that police have threatened to return to both of these settlements and to deport all those who managed to escape.
“So we are calling on the Ugandan government not to conduct any further operations,” said the spokesperson.
Those in the Nakivale settlement were gathered on the pretext that they would learn about the results of their claims.
Instead, they were pushed on to trucks and taken across the border.
In Kyaka, the group was rounded up in a WFP warehouse with food distribution as the bait, but likewise, they were surrounded by armed men and police and told to get on the trucks.
Once in Rwanda, the deportees were taken to a transit centre with a maximum capacity of 500 people and which lacks water.
“As a result, the deportees reportedly slept out in the open without food or clean water. UNHCR is seeking access,” said Fleming.
Deaths and injuries
The spokesperson noted that the “operations resulted in the deaths of two men who jumped off trucks en route to Rwanda”.
“Children were separated from their parents,” she added.
About 25 people who did not count among the deportees were also injured, including six pregnant women.
Most of the deported were failed asylum-seekers, but the agency has found evidence that recognised refugees had also been returned.
“We are also trying to establish if refugees of other nationalities might have also been deported in the confusion,” she said, reiterating that any returns must be undertaken in a voluntary manner.
As many as 3 320 Rwandans have sought asylum in Uganda this year. A massive 98% of the claims have been rejected, said the UNHCR.
“UNHCR is concerned that asylum applications are not being determined properly and fairly. We have been, and will continue to address this issue with the Ugandan authorities,” said Fleming. — Sapa-AFP