By Raymond Baguma
Government is stepping up efforts to ensure voluntary repatriation of refugees who want to return to their home countries, according to Hillary Onek, the minister of relief, disaster preparedness and refugees.
He said a tripartite meeting is arranged between the governments of Uganda, DR Congo and UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) mid next month, to discuss steps for returning Congolese refugees back to their country.
Onek said, “In the meantime, we have been sensitizing the Congolese refugees on this matter and the dangers of escaping from the settlement, without notifying settlement authorities and this exercise has now been strengthened.”
The minister was on Tuesday briefing journalists at the Media Centre following an incident in which at least 107 Congolese refugees drowned on Lake Albert as they returned home from Kyangwali refugee settlement.
He said that due to instability in neighboring countries such as South Sudan as well as Somalia, refugees continue to flow into Uganda seeking asylum.
Figures from the ministry indicate that there are presently a total of 374,539 refugees in Uganda of various nationalities.
Onek added that the Uganda government is currently negotiating the voluntary repatriation of Burundian citizens back to their country, as well as their passage through Rwanda by road.
Also under negotiation is the voluntary return of Rwandan refugees back to their country which is peaceful, Onek said.
Majority of the refugees in Uganda are of Congolese nationality. They number up to 187,842 people. Also, refugees of South Sudanese origin total to 93,146 while Somalis are 41,515 people.
Also, there are 16,347 Rwandan refugees and 13,657 Burundians. There are also 8,044 Eritreans and 2,875 Ethiopians. There are also 1,082 Kenyans and 1,840 Sudanese and 64 Pakistanis, with 7 refugees from Central African Republic.