Regional ministers to harmonise regional refugee strategy

By Nelson Kiva

Currently about 4.4 million refugees and asylum seekers originate from the Great Lakes region including from Burundi, Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, South Sudan and the Sudan.

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KAMPALA- The Great Lakes Ministers in charge of refugees met in Kampala on Wednesday to harmonise the regional strategy to address repatriation, local integration, financing and eliminating factors fuelling refugees’ crisis in the region.

President Yoweri Museveni addressed the ministers at Speak Resort, Munyonyo in Kampala on Wednesday.

Uganda is the chair of the Regional Oversight Mechanism (ROM) of the peace and security and cooperation (PSC) frame work for the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the region.

Museveni underlined Uganda’s continued role to lead regional efforts in dealing with the problem and drummed-up partners for further support.

Currently about 4.4 million refugees and asylum seekers originate from the Great Lakes region including from Burundi, Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, South Sudan and the Sudan.

This is due to armed conflicts, insecurity and human rights violations. The scale and the scope of the crisis in the region have caused disproportionate impact mainly on women and children.

At a two day technical meeting to draft the agenda for the high-level ministers’ meet, hosted on Tuesday and Wednesday at Speak Resort Munyonyo, to draft the policy commitment for the ministers, technocrats suggested that International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) secretariat, should start coordinating efforts to achieve a regional strategy that would achieve durable solutions for the refugees.

In their deliberations presided over by the Acting Commissioner for Refugees in the office of the Prime Minister, Gerald Simon Menhya, they appealed to the national and international partners to ensure adequate financing to address unmet humanitarian requirements and to support the implementation of durable solutions.

Menhya said the strategy also requires countries to commit to the promotion of effective resource management and to prevent corruption and fraud in the implementation of the refugee programmes and in the host communities.

According to Menhya, the meeting was  being held in line with the Global Compact on Refugees adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in December 2018 as a blue print guiding refugees response.

It also seeks alignment to the 2019 African Union Year of Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons in Africa: Towards Durable Solutions to Forced Displacements.”

Technocrats acknowledged continued high levels of new forced displacements combined with the protracted presence of refugees in the region can be a source of tension within and between communities and the neighbouring countries.

Greater cooperation, according to the technocrats, is required to address the drivers and root causes of forced displacements in the region, notably by violence and armed conflicts.

The United Nations ( UN) has indicated that more Congolese and South Sudan refugees could start returning home in a few months to come. 

By December 31, 2018, the Great Lakes Region countries were hosting over 815,000 Congolese refugees and asylum seekers.  159,000 were new arrivals and Uganda hosted 319,000 of the population.

 Tanzanian delegates present during the high-level meeting of ministers in charge of refugees in the Great Lakes region on Wednesday March 7, 2019 at Speke Resort Munyonyo in Kampala. (Photo by Timothy Murungi.)

The director political affairs office of the UN special envoy for the Great Lakes Region, Donata Garrasi said;

“The peaceful transition of power in DRC gives hope that conditions will be in place for safe return for the Congolese refugees hosted in the neighbouring countries.”

Felix Tshisekedi was in January elected and sworn in as the President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, succeeding Joseph Kabila.  Tshikedi pledged to promote DRC’s development in peace and security and this according to Donata made many Congolese refugees return home.

Gonata added: “The peace processes in South Sudan and Central African Republic (CAR) will also see a number of refugees voluntarily willing to be repatriated in  the next few months and years.”

Though the former vice president and opposition leader Riek Machar, is yet to return to Juba, in September last year, President Salva Kiir and  Machar signed the final peace deal in South Sudan’s civil war, bringing to an end  nearly five years of fighting.

The new deal would return Machar to power, where he would serve as the “first” of the five vice presidents, and maintain Kiir as president.

2,280,378 South Sudanese refugees are reportedly living in the neighbouring countries after being displaced by the conflicts.

In February this year, a peace deal between the government of the Central African Republic (CAR) and 14 rebel groups struck a deal after talks in Sudan.