WEST NILE. Junior Internal Affairs minister Mario Obiga Kania on Friday blocked a regional meeting that was meant to discuss the refugee crisis in West Nile sub-region and the continued influx of asylum seekers from the troubled South Sudan.
The planned meeting at White Castle Hotel in Arua aborted after the minister insisted that it was not cleared by the security team and that the government was not aware of the source of funds for organising the meeting. The meeting had attracted security personnel, MPs from the sub-region, civil society groups, local politicians and landlords hosting the refugees.
Sunday Monitor understands that about 150 participants had travelled from the eight districts to discuss the complex issues regarding refugees. However, after the minister learnt of the crisis meeting organised by Obongi MP Hassan Kaps Fungaroo of the Opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party, he immediately called up the regional police commander, Mr Ibrahim Saiga, to disperse the meeting, something that left the participants stranded.
“If issues of politics could override the intentions for development in the region, then it is unfortunate,” Mr Fungaroo told Sunday Monitor, adding: “During consultations with the MPs from this region, there were talks that how could I be appointed as a coordinator, people were questioning why I should lead since I am from the Opposition. Yet we have a crisis in our region and we wanted to discuss issues of land, water crisis, food and how the refugees could be managed until they return to South Sudan.”
On a daily basis, at least 3,000 South Sudanese enter the country. However, Afoji in Moyo District, West Nile, remains the most popular entry point into Uganda for hundreds of thousands of migrants from South Sudan, who are fleeing hunger and insecurity in the youngest nation in the world. For months now, refugees have been crossing the border in West Nile on an almost daily basis, an influx that has tested the government commitment to welcoming asylum seekers under the auspices of pan-African spirit as local authorities struggle to manage security.
Mr Fungaroo added: “There are dangers of land grabbing, the district local governments are getting sucked into corruption and there are a lot of irregularities in managing affairs of refugees that need to be discussed. These issues should be ironed out because the land given to the refugees should not be taken by the government.”
The three-day meeting was to discuss impact of refugees, humanitarian emergency and development aid effectiveness, security analysis and protection of refugees and the fate of the host communities.
When contacted by Sunday Monitor, Mr Kania said: “It is true we stopped the meeting because we were not informed and there was no security clearance and the source of funding for such a big meeting is not known to us.”
The West Nile MPs had mobilised about Shs100 million to organise the three-day-meeting.
Even Mr Saiga, who was to present a paper on security situation, was left stranded as he could not allow the meeting that had been blocked by his boss.
But nine MPs who were invited for the meeting, condemned the government action as “self-defeating” and warmed of a recipe for disaster if nothing is done urgently to address what they called “a time bomb” in West Nile.
There were also stark complaints from the residents in West Nile that some South Sudanese were coming into the country with guns and others with unchecked animals, especially goats and dogs.
On February 13, the MPs from West Nile held a consultative meeting with the minister for Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Refugees, Mr Hilary Onek, Minister of State for Northern Uganda, Ms Grace Kwiyocwiny and Deputy Speaker Jacob Oulanya about the consultative meeting.
Koboko District Woman MP Margaret Babadiri, said: “We had agreed in an earlier meeting at Parliament that this was a meeting to find ways of helping the refugees. But it is sad that people have taken it political and this way we shall not develop. We shall go back to the drawing board and see how we shall still have the meeting held.”
©Alleastafrica and Daily Monitor