Cablegate: Uganda: Parliamentarians Concerned About Immigrants


DE RUEHKM #0297/01 0511142
P 201142Z FEB 07






E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: UGANDA: Parliamentarians Concerned about Immigrants
Encroaching on Ugandan Rights

1. (SBU) Summary: On February 16, 2007, RefCoord met
with parliamentarians Stephen Mukitale and Beatrice Mpairwe
of Bulisa district, which borders the Democratic Republic
of Congo (DRC). RefCoord asked for the meeting to
determine how IDP and refugee settlements impacted the
local economy. However, the legislators quickly agreed
that neither IDPs nor encamped refugees presented a problem
for the district. They argued that their district, which
borders on the DRC and Lake Albert, was the home of an
overwhelming number of Congolese nationals living outside
the refugee camps. The presence of Congolese, long
tolerated, has now inspired a peaceful, but heated land
dispute between local fisherman and undocumented aliens.
The parliamentarians want to change the refugee or
immigration laws to deal with the immigrants. End summary.

2. (SBU) Stephan Mukitale and Beatrice Mpairwe represent
the new district of Bulisa in Uganda. The two
parliamentarians are new to legislative politics. However,
they are enthusiastic representatives for their new
district. DRCongo, Lake Albert, two national parks, and
Acholiland hem in Bulisa. Land is in short supply and
conflict surrounds the new district. Mpairwe and Mukitale
blame the national refugee law for their troubles and they
mean to change the way the law views immigrants and

3. (SBU) According to the two parliamentarians, Uganda
has historically been too open to "refugees." Neighbors
move freely over the borders, and the government is slow to
direct these people to designated refugee sites. They
complained that the international community--specifically
UNHCR--refuses to step in to take change of these arrivals.
When RefCoord asked if these arrivals were actually
refugees, or immigrants, the parliamentarians were visibly

4. (SBU) The legislators complained that what they called
refugees from Congo have been historically crossing the
border with Uganda since the early days of Congo's
independence. Each military or economic upheaval in the
region has brought with it large numbers of Congolese
immigrants to Uganda. Both legislators acknowledged that
the immigrants were not de jure refugees. However,
Mukitale stressed that the immigrants came to Uganda to
escape persecution, and remained without any legal status.
Now, Mukitale claims, as many as 45 percent of the
district's population trace their origins to Congo.

5. (SBU) Refugees or not, these immigrants put a strain
on local resources, according to the parliamentarians. The
foreign-born arrivals compete with locals for access to
fishing and land rights. Those who have been in Uganda
since the 1950's lay claim to full rights of citizenship,
MP Mpairwe claimed, with out the benefit of applying for
those rights. Peaceful but heated land disputes have
arisen between Congolese and Ugandans. Land ownership in
Bulisa is based on communally held, clan rights that are
often undocumented. According to the parliamentarians,
ethnic Congolese have made formal claims to lands with the
government. Locals accuse national authorities of favoring
these new arrivals, who use corruption and influence
peddling to secure rights to which they have no legal

6. (SBU) Livelihood issues have also caused friction in
the district. Ethnic Rwandans, expelled from neighboring
countries, wandered across the border from Congo with
livestock. These herdsmen settled on traditional farming
land. Congolese fishermen settled on the Ugandan shores of
Lake Albert, and compete with locals for the depleting
resources of the Lake. The Congolese refuse to adhere to
national restrictions on size or volume of the catch, over
fishing the lake.

7. (SBU) The national parks limit access to arable land.
In the 14 years since 1994, Congolese, especially those
related to the Hutus of Rwanda, came over the border in
increasing numbers. Those who have been in Uganda since
the 1950's help the new arrivals settle in and maintain a
sense of community that increases their economic and
political power in contrast to the traditional fishing
tribes of Uganda.

8. (SBU) To offset this relative strength of the
immigrants, the parliamentarians see two choices: 1) the
GoU should term all ethnic Congolese and Rwandans who

arrived in Uganda after 1994 as refugees and move them, by
force, to refugee settlements; 2) UNHCR should begin a
program to assist the district as a refugee impacted area.
The legislators plan to propose some form of legislation
that would address the legal status of recent undocumented
immigrants. They say that other districts have similar
problems and might support some change in either the
immigration law or refugee law to secure the rights of
Uganda citizens.

© Scoop Media

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