Open Letter To President Yoweri Museveni
Dear President Yoweri Museveni, I am alarmed by the BBC report of September 4, 2019, about the Ugandan government’s decision to review its open-door refugee policy. Your Minister Hillary Onek informed the BBC that Uganda is reviewing its refugee policy because some neighbouring countries have abused it by deploying spies disguised as asylum seekers to destabilize Uganda. Understandably, Mr. President, your government is justified in defending itself against criminality currently abusing the open-door refugee policy.
Mr. President, permit me to humbly make an appeal, however. While any reasonable person understands your frustration about countries that abuse your refugee hospitality, it would be tragic if Uganda abandoned refugees altogether. Let me be specific — the thuggish behaviour in Uganda by the Rwandan head of state, Paul Kagame, is widely-known. For example, the Kagame regime kidnapped Rwandan refugees in Uganda, leading the United Nations to remind Uganda that it had a duty, under international law, to protect Rwandan refugees. As the UNHCR representative in Kampala, Muhammed Abdi Adar, stated,
”My greatest concern is the sense of impunity that refugees, under international protection, could disappear.”
Mr. President, we appeal to you to not allow Kagame’s impunity to destroy Ugandan legendary hospitality to African refugees. Uganda is greatly appreciated around the world for its all-embracing approach to hosting refugees. The World Bank best explains the case of Uganda:
”For several decades, Uganda has been generously hosting refugees and asylum seekers from the conflict-affected countries in its neighborhood, especially the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, South Sudan, Rwanda, and Burundi…Uganda’s refugee laws are among the most progressive in the world. Refugees and asylum seekers are entitled to work; have freedom of movement; and can access Ugandan social services, such as health and education….
Mr. President, at a time when we are witnessing xenophobia in South Africa, Uganda should not abandon its leadership in hosting fellow Africans who flee bad regimes. Put in another way, please do not allow Kagame to determine Uganda’s refugee policy. It is perfectly understandable, however, that Uganda needs to vigorously conduct background checks to determine the merits of refugee applications as opposed to abandoning refugees altogether. The latter would be a tragedy.
David Himbara, a former refugee in Uganda.