Home to over 30,000 refugees, Kyangwali refugee settlement located in Hoima District South West Uganda has refugees from Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, South Sudan, Somalia, and Kenya. Kyangwali refugee camp boasts as one of the best refugee settlement camps in the world with clean water supply, well developed sanitation facilities that are easily accessible by vulnerable people like the disabled, schools that have been commended for their good performance, security and fertile land where refugee families can grow their crops and hospitals and medical centers.
While visiting the area, I was chanced to listen in to listen to a debate on Radio organized by Center for Policy Analysis and Open Society Institute of East Africa.
“Hello……Can ARV’s be given to a person who is not HIV+?’” the caller asked.
This particular caller was justifying why the KyangwaliRefugee Camp ambulance mostly transports refugees and not locals. He was enraged by the other listeners who do not support the fact that Hoima is hosting refugees.
Some say the government and other refugee support organizations only focus on refugees and ignore the locals yet they owe these organization a duty to foster their livelihood too because they have sacrificed their land among other things to provide for a new home for these “Basuhuuki” as they are commonly called in Runyoro, a local dialect of the people from Hoima.
The question is the locals honestly happy with the arrangement by the Ugandan government to host refuges in their community?
I could not help but sense the tension and pressure that sits on the minds of some of the locals in this town and while others are indifferent about the refugee question, a substantial number is critical about this issue and follows in of every development about this question. The memory of the past land wrangles is like a fresh wound to people of Hoima because this is an issue that they just can’t put to bed.
In 2013, Uganda Radio Network reported that Office of the Prime Minister ordered for the eviction of more than 60,000 locals on Kyangwali refugee settlement camp land to give space for Congolese refugees that were being resettled. The evictees had their houses burnt down, their livestock killed and generally their property damaged and this left them homeless, running for help, some camped around sub county headquarters and others put up temporary shelter under trees.
This is arguably one of the main the reasons why tension between the refugees and locals iseminent.. These people who have been negatively and directly affected by the refugee settlement program harbor grudges, bitterness and resentment not just for the refugees or their local leaders but also government heads because they feel, the focus is more on refugees. In fact the area Member of Parliament Hon. Muheirwe Daniel says that if this land problem is not fully solved, it will spark violence between the refugees and the locals.
Some of the people claim that the pressure is on them. The refugees are enjoying many privileges that they are not entitled to. The integration of refugees in these communities opens them up to compete with the locals in businesses, they are buying land and allowed to operate shops and other small scale businesses outside the mandated refuge boundaries.
The Uganda Refugee Act of 2006 accords the refugees the right to pursue business in the country provided they follow the law. In fact, Section 35(f) of this Refugee Act stipulates “if engaged in gainful employment or fully integrated and has a source of income, pay taxes in accordance with the applicable tax laws of Uganda.”
Some of the callers were also particularly disgruntled with the labor employed by the government and organizations that help refugees. A caller claimed that most top jobs are given to the imported labor and the people of Bunyoro-Kitara were left out. The others also stressed that while the hospitals in camps are open to both refugees and locals, the medical personnel are under strict orders to attend to refugees first.
Many people of Hoima and Kyangwali plus the neighboring villages are undoubtedly stomaching too much dissatisfaction and while it’salso safe to say that the refugee question has immensely developed the town given itspositives, not all is well with the locals. It doesn’t mean they loathe refugees, no, but they are seeking for some level of balance that elevates them as well as locals so that they can bask in the greatness of their community.