The UNHCR is much better than its reputation in Uganda suggests (and needs to say so) | Will Jones
- 30 June 2013
- Blogs / articles
The proposed implementation of the Cessation Clause for some Rwandan refugees has prompted fierce debate. Will Jones writes for Democracy in Africa about a recent trip to the Nakivale refugee settlement, Uganda, to meet a group of refugees who have been campaigning against the move
I had driven the best part of a day through Southern Uganda to reach Nakivale Refugee Settlement on the border with Rwanda. Nakivale is one of Africa’s oldest refugee camps (Rwandans first fled to there following the ‘Hutu Revolution’ of 1957) and now contains roughly 60,000 Rwandans, Congolese, and Somalis (along with many other nationalities – some of its residents like to say they live in the real Organisation of African Unity). This is not the choked ghetto usually evoked by media representations of African refugee crises: Nakivale is a confederation of villages that unfolds over 90km2 of land, and contains enough farming and animal husbandry to feed itself, and still produce more to export. And though Nakivale is in the middle of nowhere, it is anything but isolated from cultural, social, and economic activity: several cinemas run (showing Chinese Kung Fu films dubbed into Kiswahili or Kinyarwanda), a complex array of markets sell goods from as far afield as Thailand, and there are plenty of smartphones in evidence taking advantage of the new mobile phone mast erected in the centre of the settlement. And then there was the reason I was there: from this settlement a small but determined group of Rwandans had dedicated much of the previous decade to dogged campaigns of letter-writing, petitions, online advocacy, and otherwise pestering international agencies in an attempt to raise international awareness of what was happening to them, and to try and mobilise international opinion against their threatened deportation back to Rwanda. I was there to try and interview them before the curtain came down on their advocacy, because – to cut a long story short – they had not succeeded. And, pretty soon, they believe they will be forcibly returned ‘home’ to the mercies of a government, of which they remain sincerely terrified.