Uganda is engaging the government of Myanmar to rescue over 30 Ugandans who have been captured in rebel territories and forcefully recruited as mercenaries.
Uganda's minister of state for Foreign Affairs in charge of Regional Affairs John Mulimba revealed that the traffickers recruit desperate Ugandans via fictitious websites. Most of the victims responded to online advertisements for 'high-paying jobs in Thailand and Malaysia.'
According to Mulimba, when the Ugandan youths embark on the journeys either by air or by boats via Mombasa port, they are received by the traffickers at the designated places before being transferred to Myanmar via boats or road to rebel-controlled areas.
The revelation was contained in a response to a petition to parliament last week by Kira Municipality legislator, Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda and his counterpart of Kyadondo East Constituency, Nkunyingi Mawanda, who doubles as the shadow minister for Foreign Affairs. They told parliament that the fate of over 400 Ugandans remains unknown in Egypt, the Middle East, and Asia.
Since the military overthrow of the civilian government of the state counsellor Aung San Sun Kyi on February 1, 2021, in a coup, the political situation in Myanmar (formerly Burma), has remained tense. Over 30 active rebel movements are reportedly operating in the nation of more than 100 ethnic groups.
Mulimba revealed a record of known 30 Ugandans who are being held hostage in rebel territories. They are held in two camps namely; 16 persons in the Bailo compound - Kayin State, and 14 in the UK compound.
Mulimba said his ministry held several bilateral meetings with Than Swe, the deputy Prime Minister and Union minister of Foreign Affairs of Myanmar on the sidelines of the recently concluded Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Summit in Kampala where they agreed that the two countries create a cooperation framework in immigration and anti-human trafficking.
"I held bilateral meetings on 16th January and 24th with HE deputy prime minister and Union minister of Foreign Affairs of Myanmar and this matter was extensively discussed. It was agreed that Uganda and Myanmar establish bilateral relations and create cooperation frameworks in immigration and human traffic among others. The Myanmar Foreign minister also undertook to waive any fines and criminal cases that would have been preferred against those Ugandans," said Mulimba.
"So we regret having Ugandans held under rebel-held territories, but we are doing what it takes bi-laterally with the Government of Myanmar because you realise it is a world apart; Ugandans in Myanmar are very far away so we have to engage international agencies to see that we rescue Ugandans," added Mulimba.
Uganda's Prime Minister and Head of government business in parliament explained that after receiving social media reports, her office convened an inter-agency meeting on December 9, 2023, to devise avenues of how to secure the release of the affected Ugandans. However, the plan has not materialized due to financial constraints.
"And the people they were taking to Myanmar most of them are youth who are well trained, IT professionals or IT graduates. However, the International Organisation for Immigration has promised that they are going to help us get in touch with the government of Myanmar and see how our youth can be rescued because they have rescued some [already]," said Nabbanja.
Betty Bigombe, the Ugandan ambassador in Kula Lumpur, requested the government for a disbursement of Shs 102 million to facilitate travels to Myanmar to engage the relevant authorities to secure the release of Ugandans but the funds have not yet been availed.
Further, Mulimba pointed out that though the number of Ugandans in Egypt is not known, migrant groups have already submitted approximately 60 Ugandans in need of evacuation. The affected Ugandan nationals are currently unable to meet the conditions set by the Egyptian government.
In September 2023, the Egyptian authorities issued a three-month grace period until March 15, 2024, and directed all foreigners who were staying illegally to regularize their stay by December 2023 or else leave the country.
To regularize their stay, each illegal migrant is required to secure an Egyptian host and pay about Shs 3.8 million as an administrative fee that would cover all fines for overstaying and costs for processing a resident permit. Consequently, Ugandans who are unable to legalize their stay will end up being charged for illegal stay, jailed, or be made to pay huge fines ranging between Shs 60 million and Shs 126 million.
In a related development, the Uganda High Commission in New Delhi, India has reported that up to 200 Ugandan women, mostly victims of human trafficking want to return home, but are currently unable to due to a lack of funds to purchase air tickets.
The affected individuals were trafficked under the guise of (non-existent) jobs. According to the ministry of Foreign Affairs, the mission does not have adequate space to accommodate them. It is not yet known how much the government requires to evacuate Ugandans in Myanmar, Egypt, India, and other locations of the world.