ZOMBO. The Alur kingdom and Zombo district leadership have snubbed plans by the Office of the Prime Minister and the UNHCR to relocate the DRC refugees from Zombo district to an already existing settlement camp.
The move by the Alur kingdom to block the relocation stems from a statement made by the Minister for Disaster preparedness Mr Hilary Onek early last week at parliament that there were no available facilities and finance to cater for the over 3000 refugees being sheltered at the district farm institute in Zeu sub county.
The minister’s statement was however met with resistance from the Alur kingdom and the area Members of parliament who said what they needed most was the safety of the refugees who had successfully sought the intervention of the king to find shelter within the kingdom.
In an emergency meeting with the OPM and UNHCR officials convened at the king’s palace on Sunday, His Highness Phillip Olarker Rauni III, the Alur king argued that taking the refugees away from the kingdom was detrimental to their cultural identities and norms that needed to be safeguarded.
“History has shown that some refugees who were some years back taken to Bududa and other settlement camps had lost family ties and other cultural identities that has made it hard to trace their origin,” he said.
In a press statement read by the king, he reaffirmed that the land offer for the establishment of a settlement camp at Pakic remains and it is the position of the kingdom that the refugees remain within the kingdom for purposes of safeguarding their cultural norms and identities.
He commended the President for taking a radical decision that saw the asylum seekers received amidst COVID-19 threats and also OPM and UNHCR for taking a quick move to rescue the situation.
The king also tasked the state minister for Northern Uganda to meet the President to seek his permission to open the border for the second time to allow more of the asylum seekers enter the country.
Ms Grace Freedom Kwiyocwiny, the state minister for northern Uganda and Zombo district woman Member of Parliament said it was necessary for the UNHCR to use the available resources at their disposal to start up something instead of thinking of relocating the refugees.
She noted that a total of 1646 out of the 3056 refugees escaped from the reception center on hearing that there were plans to relocate them to another place.
“This was scary to them because they knew the impact of their relocation on their cultural identity,” she said.
According to Kwiyocwiny, the remaining 1,400 refugees at the reception centre is a manageable number that the UNHCR can interest itself in as they look for resources to establish a settlement camp.
Mr Lawrence Biyika Songa, the area Member of Parliament said what the kingdom and the local leaders are not after is the safety of the asylum seekers leaving aside the benefits that accrue from hosting refugees.
He urged the OPM and the refugee agency to allow the refugees to remain where they are being catered as they look for resources to establish a settlement camp on the land issued by the king.
“The bottom line is, the refugees are to remain within the kingdom so their cultural identities are not disrupted as it happened to some refugees who were some years back taken to Bududa and other settlement camps,” he argued.
Mr Gerald Mennya, the commissioner from OPM said a decision had been reached that the land offered by the king be used to establish a refugee reception centre where they are registered and given first aid before transportation to a settlement camp.
He said Zombo district has already been registered as one of the refugee impacted districts that needs to benefit from refugee programs and other investments related to the same.
Mennya however said, considering the position of the kingdom, there is need to quickly make assessment of the land offered by the kingdom so that the asylum seekers are taken there.
“I thank Alur kingdom for the kind gesture and your deliberations which are all geared towards ensuring that the asylum seekers are out of danger,” he said.
Mr Joel Boutrout, the country director UNHCR said the policy of UNHCR is not to force their own ideas on the asylum seekers but that of the international law.
He said the refugees will be left where they are right now as they look for ways of establishing a village settlement on the land offered by the king.
Boutrout requested for at least 1 to 2 months to use the facility at the DFI to enable the agency to seek out other technicalities.
Some negative forces are said to be behind the conflict in the mineral rich Eastern DRC where thousands have fled and have continued to flee their homes to seek refuge in neighbouring Uganda.