Just a month ago I had taken long hours seated in an unending meeting convened by the presidential affairs committee of parliament in Kyangwali, investigating a looming unlawful eviction of the locals and hoping to justify the reason for a planned expansion of the Kyangwali refugee settlement.
The accused in this plea was the office of the prime minister while to the effect the most ridiculed and mortgaged plaint for settling on land in the outskirts of the Kyangwali UNHCR refugee resettlement were the indigenous citizens of Uganda.
The presidential affairs committee as a jury listened to back and forth tales and accusations of arbitrariness, harassment and defense, a narrative that in my view lacked clarity to justify the rush for the expansion of the refugee settlement at the detriment of the local citizens. UNHCR had reported that more than 600,000 refugees entered Uganda from DRC in April 2018 fleeing a fresh wave of communal violence in the northeastern DRC whose verification have been under scrutiny.
The office of the prime minister therefore advanced and argued that there was need to expand Kyangwali refugee resettlement to help settle the increasing numbers of refugees necessitating an eviction of 500 families from 28 villages of Kasonga parish on approximately 17square kilometers. Without the due process of land acquisition that requires prior, fair, adequate compensation.
The United Nations Guidelines on Free, Prior and Informed Consent to land acquisition provide that an individual and/or community has a right to give or withhold consent to a project that may affect the land they own, occupy or other wise use. Unfortunately, the planned expansion of the refugee settlement by UNHCR is problematic since the adjoining lands have for time immemorial been occupied by local communities.
Evicting local communities to create space for settlement expansion will not only perpetuate inequity but could escalate the security situation in the region.
To my utter shock this week, was the headlines in dailies “probe unearth 300,000 ghost refugees that delivered the dictum because the verification had been carried out by the office of the prime minister and the UNHCR the custodians of the proposed schemes of expansion which should be abandoned. That not enough proof for the expansion is in vain lest the burden of proof is still
The unanswered question in my view which is not a technical one remain. Why the extension yet the dictum of the exaggerated refugee numbers itself has not been resolved, do refugees come to stay? How about if the dust settles in their country as we are all aware they flee an orchestrated situation.
The impetus of land injustices and eviction can be resolved by a systematic registration, adjudication and demarcation of land rights in Uganda. It is still hoped that systematic land registration and demarcation will not only ensure delivery of tenure security, but land Information, where the aggregated land information is developed from individual forms or records of ‘who’ holds ‘what’ land ‘where’, but also enhance Good Governance, since when more citizens get their property rights registered, more and more realise the need for national peace and stability.
Whereas settlement, occupation, ownership of land continues to pose a challenge we cannot pose to be good hosts for refugees at the detriment of the local communities to start with, this dishonesty in figures and on the faces of those who perpetuate it, do not apply our humility to refugees alone it has to cut across to citizens too, let it be a generational concern to the country.
Arans Tabaruka- is an Advocacy Officer with Civic Response on Environment & Development (CRED)