ZOMBO. The UNHCR country representative has extolled Ugandan government for taking a radical decision guided by the humanitarian principles to open its borders for the thousands of Democratic Republic of Congo’s nationals seeking sanctuary in Uganda.
Mr Joel Boutrout, the UNHCR country representative said it was a kind gesture for the government of Uganda to open its borders amidst COVID-19 pandemic that saw countries including Uganda close their international border in efforts to prevent the chain of transmission.
Boutrout was on Wednesday afternoon speaking during the reception of the thousands of refugees held at their reception centre in Zeu subcounty where they are expected to be quarantined for at least 14 days before they are relocated to their settlement in Atyak sub county.
“We are very grateful to the President of Uganda for opening the border for at least 3 days to allow the Congolese cross into Uganda despite the COVID-19 threats,” he said.
Boutrout said Zombo is a refugee impacted district which needs accelerated development in its major sectors like road, health and education among others to minimize the burden brought by the asylum seekers.
He said much as the UNHCR is considering budget cuts in its operations, the UN will have to take a drastic decision to do something about the plight of the refugees.
“Much as we are diverting resources from other sectors to handle the refugee settlement here, the UHNHCR will lobby investments and development initiatives in the district so that hosting the refugees does not become a burden but a blessing to their host,” he said.
Mr Hillary Onek, the minister for disaster preparedness and refugees who graced the reception of the refugees said Uganda is a humane country that is why the President went ahead to temporarily open the border for 3 days to facilitate the reception of the DRC nationals stranded in the no man’s land for months.
He however called for proper screening of the asylum seekers to avoid some wrong elements from taking advantage of the humanitarian situation to sneak into Uganda.
The minister told the refugees to first take care of their own security in the camps so that there is no gap left for insecurity.
“I’m calling upon the security personnel and other agencies involved in the reception of the refugees including the community along the borderlines to remain vigilant to ensure that no one gets into Uganda unnoticed,” he said.
Onek urged the UN to increase the budget for UNHCR so that it effectively responds to the plight of the refugees and also minimizes reduction in relief aid like food ration among other services given to refugees.
Mr Vincent Ochaya, the Prime Minister Alur kingdom applauded the President of Uganda for demonstrating a high level humanitarian heart to accept the refugees who had been languishing in the forest for months.
“We as Alur kingdom would like to extend our sincere gratitude to the President of Uganda for honouring our call to save the Alur and other people who had been displaced by the insecurity in DRC and seeking refuge in Uganda”, he said.
Ochaya said the over 2000 acres of land offered by the king at Pakic in Atyak sub county will be increased as the kingdom engages with other members of the community to offer land for the same course.
“Other individuals are also willing to cooperate in the area of land expansion for settling the refugees in case there is need and we call upon the OPM and other agencies not to worry on matters to do with land,” he said.
Ms. Grace Freedom Kwiyocwiny, the state minister for northern Uganda and also the woman Member of Parliament Zombo said the kind gesture shown by the President will go a long way to save the women and children whom according to her are the most vulnerable.
“We shall not get tired thanking our President for reopening the border because we all saw how these people were suffering especially the women and children.
She cautioned the media and other members of the public against misinformation which she said brings mistrust in the management of refugee affairs.
The conflict in the Eastern Ituri province has been attributed to some negative forces seeking control of the mineral resources by causing instability.
Over 10,000 people are estimated to have been displaced by the conflict that has also seen thousands of lives lost.
But the 3 day reception exercise being monitored by the OPM and UNHCR will help in establishing the number of DRC nationals being hosted in Zombo district.