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Parliament rejects report on refugees’ status

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Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | A report from Parliament’s Committee on Equal Opportunities that recommended a review of the refugee policy to control their influx has been rejected by the House.

It follows a report presented by Dorcas Acen, the Committee’s Deputy Chairperson during the plenary sitting on Thursday on the status of refugees and refugee hosting communities in Uganda.

According to Acen, the rising numbers of refugees from neighboring countries were impacting negatively the provision of social services like education and health care.

The committee recommended to parliament that the country’s open-door policy where refugees are allowed to enter the country freely needs to be reviewed to check on the numbers. It also recommended that the government engage other countries and international institutions in relocating refugees to third countries.

“The committee strongly recommends that government revises its refugee policy to forestall a probable long-term conflict resulting from the overflow of refugees and underfunding resulting from cuts in budgetary support from donors,” part of the report read.

Deputy Speaker, Thomas Tayebwa, however, observed that the report had many loopholes, noting that the recommended policy review on refugees is a preserve of the Cabinet.

“I do not want us to break news here that Parliament has stopped refugees. It is our obligation under international law to host refugees. We cannot stop asylum seekers running away from war from entering our country,” Tayebwa reasoned.

He referred the report back to the committee, saying that it requires a clean-up and to be presented again on the floor at a later time.

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The Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, John Mulimba, submitted that the recommendation on curtailing refugees from entering Uganda is in discord with national and international conventions on refugees, which Uganda ratified.

The Prime Minister, Robinah Nabbanja, also Head of Government Business in Parliament pointed out that the Global Summit on Refugees held in December 2023, resolved how to manage the dwindling resources to refugee hosting districts in Uganda.  “Therefore, the issue should not be used to justify curtailing refugee entry to Uganda,” Nabbanja said.

She added “During the global refugee forum in Geneva, in December 2023 Uganda was recognized because of our refugee policy, globally. In 1986, Uganda was an exporter of refugees, up to 500,000 were living in other countries around the globe and we are currently hosting 1.6 million refugees.”

Terego District Woman Representative, Rose Obigah told Parliament that her constituency has realized progressive development, which she attributed to the presence of refugees there.    “We should treat them with dignity, they come because there is a challenge back home. The few challenges they are having with host communities, we should address them,” she said.

The Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, Joel Ssenyonyi, implored the government to collaborate with neighbouring countries to assist Uganda in supporting host communities citing that the country cannot carry the burden alone yet host communities are disempowered.

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