Gov’t denies pact to resettle ejected Israel asylum seekers

Uganda has no agreement with Israel to resettle tens of thousands of failed asylum seekers, according to the minister for Refugees, Eng Hillary Onek.

The claims are that Uganda and Rwanda struck an agreement to resettle tens of thousands of refugees and economic migrants from Israel in return for unspecified monetary and military assistance from Israel.

Minister Hillary Onek addressing journalists

Reports suggest that already some of the rejected refugees and economic migrants are actually in Uganda. The affected refugees are mainly from Eritrea, Ethiopia and Sudan.

Minister Onek says he has heard claims that Ugandan immigration officials have intercepted the rejected refugees and economic migrants trying to enter Uganda from Rwanda, hastily adding that the police and immigration would be in a better place to comment on the claims.

According to Onek, anyone who attempts to enter into Uganda illegally would be committing a crime and should be dealt with under the law. He adds that Uganda cannot bring in 'burdens' yet the country already has many problems.

Onek also says that the ongoing investigation into corruption and mismanagement of the refugee's humanitarian response will deal with fresh biometric registration of refugees, especially urban ones, and asylum seekers.

He says that the investigations will also cover claims that refugees or asylum seekers have to bribe government officials in order to be offered registration assistance. Addressing journalists at Uganda Media Centre, Onek said police investigators as well as investigators from UN agencies have been given a month to conclude the probe.

He said the investigations commenced about a week ago. Once hailed as 'paradise for refugees', Uganda's refugee programme recently came international scrutiny following allegations of inflated refugee numbers so as to get more aid.

There are also allegations of human trafficking, with young South Sudanese girls and women forcibly taken back to their troubled country. 

Onek noted that government has shown the strongest commitment to deal with anyone embezzling refugee's funds and food, something that has tainted Uganda's global image as a generous country when it comes to welcoming refugees. 

Onek said the mismanagement could have been caused by increase of refugees in the country in the last two years. This, Onek said led to exponential growth of players involved in refugees affairs hence stretching the existing supervision and coordination capacity in the office of Prime Minister. 

In the last two years, the refugee's population has grown from about 400,000 to over 1.4 million. Majority of these came from South Sudan. He said the ongoing biometric re-verification of refugees will ascertain whether these numbers are really correct. 

The food distribution that has largely been affected by corruption is handled by international and local NGOs contracted by World Food Programme (WFP) and United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).  For instance, Onek revealed that NGOs such as Samaritan Purse and World Vision have been handling food distribution in western Uganda and West Nile respectively.

Hilary Onek explained that food distribution is done monthly depending on available in World Food Programme stores. The role of Prime Minister's office in food distribution is to develop a food log as per registered refugees in the biometric system.

The food log of refugees is handed over to World Food Programme which then hands it over to contracted NGOs to start food distribution. 

Minister Onek says Uganda's refugee policy is still among if not the best in the world. He cited Asians, especially from Pakistan who jetted into the country, claimed refugee status, yet they are now engaged in brisk businesses like car imports and sales and are making lots of profits.

He also cited Muslims of the Ahmadiyya sect who claim they are persecuted in the Middle East and Asia in order to acquire refugee status and end up as prosperous business people.

© 2016 Observer Media Ltd