Did the former UNHCR Representative in Uganda Undermine
the Government’s Refugee Policy?
Briefing on the Plight of Achol Pii Refugees and
Refugee Policy in Uganda
Relocation and GoU's Responsibility
In a meeting to discuss the transfer of the refugees to Madiokolo and Ikafe, convened on 3rd March 2003 by the Ministry of Disaster Preparedness and Refugees, the Commissioner for Disaster Preparedness and Refugees clearly articulated the reasons for the transfer:
- Masindi district was not willing to take on an additional caseload of refugees
- Sanitary conditions in Kiryandongo settlement were deteriorating
- Serious problems with congestion
- Potential conflict between refugees and nationals – refugees were moving over 10 km to collect firewood from the farms and fields of nationals
- Increasing theft problems in the areas surrounding the settlement
- Insecurity – "[s]ome refugees carry guns in the settlement, and it is not easy to administratively handle them due to the current settlement set up"
- Threat of renewed ethnic clashes between the Lotuko and the Acholi
While some of these reasons are legitimate, they neither outweigh the security concerns of the refugees nor justify their transfer to Madiokolo and Ikafe. The issue here is not whether the refugees should be relocated from Kiryandongo, but whether the chosen location is sufficiently secure to guarantee their physical security and allow for proper psychological recovery from recent violent experiences. Security, both physical and psychological, is crucial to the process of recovery and re-establishing the dignity of the refugees, and to the realisation of durable solutions to their plight.
Therefore, the GoU has a legal and moral responsibility to ensure the refugees' security and to take into consideration their fears and experiences. It follows that the GoU's current position on the transfer of 'take it or leave it' is inconsistent with humanitarian principles. The refugees' refusal to go to West Nile is not born of theoretical fear, but of practical experiences of violence and murder at the hands of rebels. Twice the government promised them security in Achol Pii, and twice they paid dearly with the lives of their beloved ones. Anyone who has gone through the experiences that the refugees went through in Achol Pii would resist being transferred to an area that is technically a war zone.
The conclusion of a peace deal with the UNRF II is not an automatic guarantee of security. We have seen peace deals concluded and torn apart, and we should not have to wait until a refugee is killed in Madiokolo or Ikafe to conclude that it is insecure. Prudence should guide the GoU in reaching decisions that have far reaching consequences for the refugees' lives.