UN agency deplores forced returns of Rwandan refugees from Uganda16 July 2010 – The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today deplored the forced returns of Rwandans from Uganda, with reports of police brutality being used to deport the asylum-seekers. On Wednesday, Ugandan police carried out an operation to round up and force out some 1,700 Rwandan refugees from the Nakivale and Kyaka camps in southwestern Ugandan.
In the Nakivale settlement, Rwandan asylum-seekers were assembled under the pretext that they would be told of the results of their asylum claims, with panic breaking out among the group when police fired shots.
“Force was used to push people onto trucks,” with the refugees then being driven across the border to Rwanda, UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming told reporters in Geneva today.
Meanwhile in the Kyaka camp, police and armed men surrounded a UN World Food Programme (WFP) warehouse filled with refugees who believed they would receive food supplies.
“Those who did not manage to escape were forced onto waiting trucks,” Ms. Fleming said, adding that many were not allowed to take their personal belongings with them.
Two men who jumped out of trucks en route back to Rwanda died, and some children were separated from their parents.
More than two dozen people who were not deported sustained injuries, some from police beatings. Among the injured were 6 pregnant women who were treated at a local hospital and then released.
UNHCR is interviewing those injured in the round-ups and tracing those separated from their families in the deportation.
“Although UNHCR was broadly aware of an agreement between the two countries to return failed asylum-seekers, we were not informed of the timing and the nature of this operation,” Ms. Fleming said.
She added that the agency staff at the settlements at the time of the incidents were asked to leave the scene.
The operations were targeted at failed asylum-seekers, but UNHCR has received confirmation that recognized refugees were among those returned to Rwanda.
In Kyaka, a woman told the agency that her two children were among the group sent back despite the fact that she and her family were recognized as refugees.
“UNCHR remains concerned about further deportations amid reports from refugees that police had threatened to return to Navikale and Kyaka to deport all those who escaped,” Ms. Fleming noted.
She stressed that the return of refugees and asylum-seekers whose asylum applications have not properly and finally been ruled on should only be taken voluntarily and in conditions of safety and dignity.
“We called upon the Ugandan authorities to halt the operation as soon as we became aware that it was under way,” the UNHCR spokesperson said.
“We have reiterated that there should be no further such returns contrary to the principles of national and international refugee law,” she added. “We have underlined that anyone deserving international protection should be allowed to remain in Uganda.”
Since the start of this year, more than 3,300 Rwandans have filed for asylum in Uganda, with 98 per cent of claims having been rejected in the past six months.
“UNHCR is concerned that asylum applications are not being determined properly and fairly,” Ms. Fleming stated. “We have been and will continue to address this issue with the Ugandan authorities.
Once in Rwanda, those deported this week were taken to Byumba province’s Rukomo transit center, which can only hold 500 people, has not been used for a year, and lacks water and adequate sleeping space. UNHCR is seeking access to the returnees are reportedly sleeping out in the open and do not have food or clean water.
As of this January, the agency estimates that there are nearly 128,000 refugees and more than 11,500 asylum-seekers in Uganda.