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Refugees, host communities lock horns over land

One of the aggrieved residents speaking in the meeting. (PHOTO/BOB)

ISINGIRO – The conflict between locals in the host communities and refugees has continued to escalate over land.

The locals accuse the refugee’s top management of displacing them off their land, by encroaching on their hosts’ plantations and homes.

This is not the first time locals and refugees have been embroiled in land conflicts, In 2017 the conflict degenerated into violent clashes between security and locals who had attempted to attack the refugees.

There was a scuffle between police and native residents, tear gas and bullets rocked the day as the locals tried to block the roads, damage all the signposts on the road that leads to the Nakivaale refugee camp.

This resulted into the arrest of some of the local leaders including the LCV Chairperson Isingiro, Jeremiah Kamurari who was alleged to have masterminded these xenophobic demonstrations.

Last week, during a meeting at Kaswina in Kashojwa, Rugaga Sub County the locals accused the refugees’ managers of settling the refugees in their plantations, gardens and homes.

The locals turned hostile and threatened to retaliate and force these refugees out if the leaders and refugee managers don’t come out quickly to solve the impasse.

“We can’t accept to be evicted, have our gardens, homes and plantations destroyed as we look on. Where do they want us to go, we were born here, our parents buried here, we are sending you our last message that we are going to fight on,” said Luben Tuhirwe.

Police trying to clear stones and tree stamps the locals used to block the road in 2017 demonstrations. (PHOTO/File)

Longino Senkindo, another resident said he lost over three acres of eggplants and maize when refugees were settled on his land.

Bukanga County MP Steven Kangwagye said whereas there are many locals living inland gazetted as refugee resettlement, these also have land titles, documents to prove they own this land they are settling on and you can’t just evict them.

He said the staff of Office of the Prime minister led by the camp commandant when they are going to settle new refugee entrants they don’t consider the locals already on the land, even consult leaders.

“The refugee, locals conflict over land is a complicated one, it needs re-demarcation that the locals get clear boundaries of own lands. What we cannot accept is making our people refugees in their own country, “said Mr Kangwagye who also attended this meeting.

He said that it’s unfortunate that refugees who get free rations like food, again get settled on the locals’ land which leads to the destruction of their food which leaves them no alternative means for survival.

The MP calmed residents not to resort to violence as leaders try to look for solutions but blamed the camp commandant for resettling refugees on land that was already occupied by the locals without involving their leaders.

Mathias Tushabomwe, Rugaga Sub-county chairperson raised fears over looming hunger and poverty among these households because they can no longer engage in any economic activity for fear of being evicted anytime.

Herbert Muhangi the RDC Isingiro also blamed the settlement officials in the office of the Prime minister for going against their earlier dialogue meetings they used to hold pertaining this land conflict especially to do with resettling new refugee.

“We used to have dialogue meetings with settlement officials from Office of the Prime minister but this is no longer there and the situation is degenerating into violence. The problem of refugees and locals is historical, you cannot just start settling refugees in people’s gardens, evict them like that and even the President had directed so. We can’t accept this anymore,” said Mr Muhangi.

Locals blocking vehicles from passing over the land conflict in Nakivale

He warned the office of the Prime minister and the refugee commandant who is their direct person on the ground to stop their egoism and pride and understand that the existence of these people they are trying to evict is known by the government.

When contacted Nakivale settlement commandant  David Mugyenyi denied the allegations however said he is new in the area and since he came no any evictions and resettlement except encroachers on Lake Nakivale.

“We know they are locals who have settled on government land gazetted for settling refugees but we can’t just chase them away or use refugees to evict them and we have not evicted any save for encroachers Lake Nakivale, the resource we are protecting from extinction,” said  Mugyenyi.

Hundreds of residents from sub-counties of Rushasha, Mbaare, Rugaga, Kashumba, Ngarama and Isingiro town council share boundary with Nakivale refugee settlement and some of these fall in the land that was gazetted for this settlement which has been the source of conflict.

Kangwagye said they are now registering all those people sharing refugee land as they pursue a permanent solution.

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