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Myanmar recruits Ugandans duped in job offers as rebel fighters

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Minister John Mulimba presenting his report on the stranded Ugandans to the House during the Thursday plenary

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | At least 30 Ugandans have been trafficked and recruited to fight as rebel mercenaries in the ongoing Myanmar People’s Defense War, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has confirmed.

John Mulimba, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs in charge of Regional Affairs 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 Ugandans embark on the journeys either by air or by boats via the ports of Mombasa, they are received by the traffickers at the designated places, and they are then 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 Southeast Asian 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.

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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.

Robinah Nabbanja, the 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.

She said that most of the trafficked Ugandans are youth who are well-trained especially IT graduates. She however says the International Organization for Migration – IOM is assisting the Ugandan government to engage with Myanmar counterparts to secure release of the Ugandans.

Betty Bigombe, the Ugandan Ambassador in Kula Lumpur, requested the government for a disbursement of 102 million Shillings 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 living in Egypt is not known, migrant groups have already submitted approximately 60 Ugandans in need of evacuation. The affected citizens 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.

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To regularize their stay, each illegal migrant is required to secure an Egyptian host and pay 3.8 million Shillings 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 60 – 126 million Shillings.

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 jobs, which are not there. 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.

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