Arrival of Afghan Refugees in Uganda Raises Security Fears
The first batch of Afghan evacuees fleeing the Taliban takeover has arrived in Uganda. They will receive temporary refuge before relocating to the US. Some Ugandans, however, are concerned about their country’s security.
A group of Afghan refugees including men, women and children has been transported to Uganda in a chartered flight, said authorities in a statement. Kampala gave no more details on the identities of the evacuees. It is the first batch of the 2,000 Afghan refugees expected to be resettled in Uganda.
“The Government of the Republic of Uganda this morning received 51 evacuees from Afghanistan who arrived aboard a privately chartered flight at the Entebbe International Airport,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.
Their arrival follows a request from the US government to temporarily host “at-risk” Afghan nationals and others who are in transit to the United States and other destinations worldwide.
The US embassy in Kampala thanked Uganda for its “generosity and hospitality toward these communities.”
“The Government of Uganda and the Ugandan people have a long tradition of welcoming refugees and other communities in need,” the embassy wrote on Twitter.
Today Uganda received a privately chartered flight carrying evacuees from Afghanistan. The Government of Uganda and the Ugandan people have a long tradition of welcoming refugees and other communities in need.
Fears of imminent ‘terrorist attacks’
However, some Ugandans fear that the presence of Afghan refugees could spark attacks from Taliban sympathizers and Islamist militants like Somalia’s al-Shabab. In July 2010, at least 74 people were killed in twin bombings in the capital Kampala. Al-shabab claimed responsibility for the attack — the worst in East Africa since the 1998 US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.
Later in 2014, President Yoweri Museveni sent troops to Somalia to join the AU peacekeeping mission and Kenyan forces battling al-Shabab insurgents. Since then the East African nation claims to have foiled several terrorism plots.
Professor Mwambutsya Ndebesa, a historian and lecturer at Makerere University in Kampala, told DW that Uganda could attract unwanted attention from terrorist groups by hosting Afghan refugees. “Afghan refugees may turn the attention of international terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda, al-Shabab, and ISIS to Uganda and destabilize the country,” he said.
Apart from the fears of a terrorist attack, some Ugandans like Francis Babu, a politician and former legislator in the Ugandan parliament, are not pleased with his government’s decision because of what it could mean for the new Afghan rulers. He is worried that the deal hatched between the United States and Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni to host the Afghan refugees could dent relations between Afghanistan and Uganda.
Babu also believes that the US is eminently better-suited to take in the evacuees.
“If you think about America having 50 states, some of these states are bigger than Uganda. Suppose you took the 50 states and divided them into 2,000 people; each state would take 40 people. I wonder why Uganda should accept 2,000 people.”
Refugees ‘are not a burden’
But Uganda’s minister for housing, Chris Baryomunsi, says the government will not be constrained by the Afghans’ welfare since the US will take care of their expenses for the three months they will be in Uganda before they are relocated to either Canada or the US.
“Right now, we have over 1.6 million refugees here in Uganda. So when we received the request, and from a moral point of view — we could not refuse because we have to support humankind,” Baryomunsi said.
“We shall support them for the short time that they will be here before they proceed to their destination,” Baryomunsi added.
Most refugees in Uganda live in large refugee settlements in the sparsely populated north of the country, but around 81,000 urban refugees live in the capital Kampala. Aid agencies have repeatedly said that the international response to support refugees in Uganda, a country of about 44 million people, has been underfunded.
Whitewashing human rights abuses?
Critics and opponents of President Museveni say the refugee arrangement with the US is an attempt by the 76-year-old leader who recently won Uganda’s election to cover up allegations of human rights abuses. Uganda’s opposition leader Bobi Wine accuses Museveni’s administration of kidnappings, torture, and killing his supporters.
Ugandan political scientist Ndebesa also underscored that the deal to host Afghan refugees would only serve to boost Museveni’s image abroad.
“Now, the West will look at Uganda strategically so that it can serve its interests in East Africa. But, on the other hand, the president of Uganda [Museveni] will get a positive image internationally that he is generous so that he will whitewash his image about human rights abuses,” Ndebesa said.
Despite such concerns, some ordinary Ugandans have welcomed the decision to resettle Afghan refugees in Uganda. Many took to social media platforms to show solidarity with the Afghan refugees.
But for Fred Itogoro, a Kampala resident, Uganda should have first repatriated its own stranded citizens before welcoming Afghan refugees.
“Bringing Afghans to Uganda shouldn’t be an issue. But the Ugandan government is not even concerned about its people stranded in Kandahar province. They [the stranded] are going to be seen as traitors,” Itogoro told DW. “They could be attacked because of their skin color and cultural differences.”
The Ugandan government says its consistent policy informs the decision to host those in need by receiving refugees and persons in distress and to play a responsible role in matters of international concern.