ZOMBO. The government of Uganda has agreed to partially open its borders to strictly allow in the over 10, 000 Congolese stuck at Lendu forest along the Uganda-Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) borders in Zombo district.
The Congolese are mostly from the Alur tribal group fleeing ethnic conflict with the Lendu ethnic group in the Eastern DRC.
The intervention by the government follows a letter written by the King of Alur, His Highness Phillip Rauni Olarker III imploring the government to come to the aid of his subjects seeking refuge in Uganda amidst the COVID-19 pandemic that among other things, led to the closure of all entry and exit points of the country.
Sending a signal of relief, the government of Uganda through the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) gave a green light to the King’s demand after it directed that the border be strictly opened to allow the resettlement of the refugees.
In response, officials from OPM and UNHCR on Saturday made an assessment visit to the land located in Pakic chieftaincy, Atyak sub-county in Zombo district.
The land offered by the King is part of the bargain to have his subjects resettled and hence rescued from the inter-ethnic violence that has seen thousands dead and property destroyed.
During the assessment of the land, Mr Godfrey Byaruhanga, the OPM field coordinator department of refugees said the government needs land that can accommodate at least 20,000 refugees or more.
“The minimum number of people in a standard settlement should be at least 20, 000 to match the investments,” Byaruhanga said.
He added that they need to open up better road networks and put in place a number of facilities like schools and health centres among others.
“The kingdom needs to legally transfer this land to us to enable us and our partners to take immediate action because we have been experiencing land cases in some areas due to unclear land documentation,” he said.
According to Byaruhanga, the border has strictly been opened for the people stuck in the forest, and thereafter, it will be closed but the number is likely to swell when the government officially opens its borders with time.
He tasked the UNHCR and other partners to convene an immediate inter-agency meeting to ensure action is taken to expedite the resettlement process.
According to the OPM team, about 3, 600 acres of land will be needed for the resettlement of the refugees.
Rt. Hon. Vincent Ochaya, the Alur kingdom Prime Minister said the King is willing to give as much land as may be needed by the government to resettle the people.
He said what the King wants to know is the size of land needed to settle the stranded people otherwise, he is ready to cooperate in any way to ensure that his subjects are helped.
Ms Grace Freedom Kwiyocwiny, the state minister for Northern Uganda and the Zombo district woman Member of Parliament (MP) said the people seeking to cross into Uganda will be subjected to COVID-19 screening to ascertain their health status before being allowed in.
“The President has always been kind and that is why he has amidst all the COVID-19 challenges, allowed the people running away from violence to be received into the country,” he said.
Kwiyocwiny said the borders of the settlement land have not yet been known and there is a need for the district and OPM team to have a core committee meeting to finalize land issues and the needed quantity as well.
Similarly, Mr Lawrence Biyika Songa, the area MP said what is needed most is the technical advice on what size of land will be enough to settle the expected number of people.
“Knowing how much land we need is really important because such technicalities will really help us as leaders to know how much land is needed from us,” he said.
In the meantime, the OPM and UNHRC are on their heels to work on the resettlement modalities so as to look into the plight of the asylum seekers.