KAMPALA – The fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban has sent shivers down the spines of panicky Afghans scrambling to flee the country for fear of being killed. But it has also brought panic to European politicians who are terrified of another mass movement of Muslim asylum seekers entering their respective countries.
They worry that new migrants will fan the embers of the far-right and populist movements that reshaped politics after a wave of asylum seekers from the wars in Syria and Iraq made their way to Europe in 2015.
Support for anti-immigrant parties has since fallen, along with migrant numbers. But with important elections looming in Germany and France, the line being drawn by European leaders is early and firm, they are not willing to let history repeat itself.
Afghans are now facing a compassion deficit in Europe that may be insurmountable leaving them with no option but to consider Africa as a last resort option.
I know for a fact that all human beings irrespective of their status in society are potential refugees and it goes without saying that those hosting the displaced persons are duty bound to treat them with love and dignity.
Refugees are just like the rest of the people, the only difference is that for some period of time they stay in foreign places because of circumstances beyond their control. Sadly, the majority of these are usually women, children and the elderly who may be defenceless during such times of conflict, economic hardships, natural disasters, and social or political persecution.
It should be remembered from our history that all of us are occupying places far away from where our ancestors once lived. Infact the origins of many ethnic groups in Uganda just like other parts of the world can be traced far away from where they are currently settled. This is a clear indication that all of us were once refugees or children of the refugees and therefore must be humane in the way we treat those who have been forced to flee their stead.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights under Article 2 provides that everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or another opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or another status.
It is on this premise that the world out there must protect human rights so diligently, more so for women and children, so as to live harmoniously whether these are internally displaced persons or refugees. The most important factor for a country to consider when taking up refugees is the point of saturation and for how long the absorbed refugees are expected to stay in the hosting country. It cannot be an open cheque like is the case in Uganda.
With all the mushrooming refugee and internally displaced people’s camps in Uganda such as Nakivale, Sangwali in Kikube, Kyaka11 in Kyegegwa, numerous camps in Ajumani, Bidi Bidi in Yumbe, Rwamanja in Kamwenge and numerous camps in Kiryandongo, Uganda will soon turn out to be a refugee country and many will start demanding to be recognized as Ugandans.
Instead of using our free land for commercial agriculture, we have turned ourselves into standby hosts every other time there is a refugee crisis in the neighborhood and beyond. In doing so, we have put a lot of pressure on our available land including wet lands and forests.
According to information and statistics from the Office of the Prime Minister and United Nations High Commission for Refugees updated in July, 2021, Uganda hosts Refugees from South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Somalia, Rwanda, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan totaling to over 1,600,000 registered refugees yet others are living here undetected and now we have another 2,000 from Afghanistan.
How many refugees must we have in order to fell saturated and raise the red flag saying enough is enough?
With all the problems we have, our inability to look after our own Ugandans languishing in poverty, diseases and ignorance, I personally think it is time for us to break the archaic African culture of treating visitors with glove hands at the expense of our own. In many African homes, children can eat beans from January to December 24th and yet when a visitor comes home, a hen is slaughtered to create an impression that that is the way things are done in that home, yet they say charity begins at home before it can extend to others.
If we say charity begins at home, we mean that people should deal with the needs of people close to them before they think about helping others.
We are told, so they say that at the request of the United States President, Uganda’s Museveni has decided even without consulting Parliament to temporarily take in 2,000 refugees from Afghanistan as if it was their wish to come to Africa and not Europe. I do not know why the word “temporarily” was used in reference to the Afghanistan Refugees situation because other refugees from Rwanda, Congo and Somalia who came in earlier on a temporary basis have been here for more than 15 years and it appears they are here to stay.
Rejecting these Refugees (apologies for the harsh thinking) would teach these Americans to stop their habit of lighting fires that they cannot put off. They have been in the habit of starting wars in other countries and creating puppet leaders while they steal rule behind the scenes. They front war on terror as their reason for invading foreign countries and creating insurgencies to steal whatever is capable of being stolen and leave these countries in a vulnerable state after they have depleted their resources. Countries like Libya are examples of the American bad administration which we are condoning by helping them clean up their mess.
To cope with the expected flood of Afghan refugees, the Biden administration wants to enlist commercial airlines to ferry those arriving in Gulf States from Kabul to countries willing to offer them resettlement many of whom would be those who helped the American governments during their 20 year presence in the country. According to international NGO East Africa Refugee Relief, about 500 Afghans are expected to land in Uganda in phases allegedly on a temporary basis and so far, Imperial hotels in Entebbe have been secured for their arrival and screening as confirmed by Joel Boutroue, the Uganda representative for the United States High Commission for Refugees.
With elections looming in Germany and France, European politicians are determined to avoid the sort of populist backlash that followed the 2015 refugee crisis which Germany has now said must not be repeated. The changed tone coming from Berlin is already being echoed in various corners of Europe. Austria, which was on one of the main migrant routes six years ago, has categorically ruled out taking any Afghan refugees. Greece swiftly made clear it would not be the “gateway” for refugees to Europe again. France called for a “robust response” that would keep refugees closer to their home pushing for a need to make the country of origin safer.
These Europeans countries seem to have forgotten that they joined the American invasion in a NATO joint force after the 9/11 attacks on the United States in an effort to get rid of terror bases in the Middle East. No doubt the Afghan crisis is a spillover of their overzealous decision to bulldoze whoever raises their head above the murky waters. Infact these Europeans have a more pressing moral obligation than any other country in Africa to take up these refugees. Instead, they have gone ahead to conduct a public display of affection of Afghanistan by preaching water while they drink wine. They Infact they don’t want to take up any Afghan responsibility and are busy calling upon Uganda to help out.
Jana Puglierin, head of the Berlin office of the European Council on Foreign Relations is on record for having said, “We Europeans have been in that country for 20 years, of course we have a moral responsibility, especially for the people who are fleeing this new Taliban regime, “And now we are saying, Afghanistan is not our problem.”
The United States faces a similar yet even more onerous quandary over accepting Afghan asylum seekers. Almost everywhere, governments have expressed general willingness to accept Afghans who worked alongside American forces or international aid groups but have provided little detail about how that might happen. But they are wary of committing to the many thousands more who would seek to leave to avoid life under the Taliban, even though for now the number of migrants over land routes has been relatively low.
“We’re talking about thousands, not hundreds of thousands, who need help, people who are on lists because they worked with us,” said Gerald Knaus, the founding chairman of the European Stability Initiative. Given the overall drop in migration numbers in recent years, it was “a straw-man argument” to raise fears of another wave. “2015 will not be repeated,” he said. “The comparison with 2015 is both completely misleading and politically dangerous.”. these sentiments are akin kicks of a dying horse seeking for empathy.
It is evident that European Countries seem to be pushing American to carry its cross, if they thought that by occupying Kabul, the problems of terror attacks would end, it is just a tip of an ice berg, the problem is far from over. Now they have to host some of these “terrorists” in their own boundaries, they will attack them from within and remind them of Osama Bin Laden who once lived in America and later turned against them. They say once a Taliban always one.
While the other European countries are indirectly saying we helped out on the refugee crisis in 2015, some of these refugees are still here and we cannot take in any more, Uganda is giving a blanket acceptance as if we don’t have enough of our own problems. Already, Kampala is a huge refugee camp full of Somali, Sudanese, Rwandese and Congolese, what else do we want? That is exactly the same way our former colonial masters entertained Indians until they became part of Uganda, their children only knew Uganda as their home and nowhere else, had it not been for former President Amin Dada, we would all be in the village.
Our Government needs to be reminded that being humanitarian does not mean you exceed your abilities, surely with over 1,600,000 refugees, it is time to close the doors, the windows and ventilators especially for far off refugees. It is obvious that all our neighbours are prone to wars, we will be playing safe to reserve space for them. Let other countries also lend a hand. However, if the worst comes to the worst, let us send the Afghans to Karamoja to help the area develop, after all, even the Talibans themselves come from such an environment.
Now that we know Europe does not need these Refugees, what may appear to be a transit point in Uganda for the Afghans may turn out to be a permanent home for them and when bombs start exploding in Kampala, how shall we react if we realized that the Afghans have been recruited by their fanatic Muslim brothers of the Allied Democratic Forces.
I think American should consider staying longer in Afghanistan other than leaving it deliberately to the Talibans with their sharia system. The problem will obviously escalate forcing them to go back and re-colonise Afghanistan. The gesture of their neigbours like Turkey in building high rise perimeter walls stretching hundreds of miles shows the problem is far from over and nobody is willing to have refugees have a free entry and exit. The Americans need to empower right thinking Afghanistan leaders in office who will respect human rights and the rule of law.
The fear of human rights violations are a major factor in causing the flight of refugees as well as an obstacle to their safe and voluntary return home. Safeguarding human rights in countries of origin is therefore critical both for the prevention and for the solution of refugee problems. Sometimes, host countries have to make life a little bit hard for the refugees so that they desire to return to their homes after their fears have been put to rest.
It is therefore imperative to ensure that there is respect for human rights by those entrusted with power in any country; and that the infringements on human rights are minimized at all costs to avoid spillovers as is the case in Afghanistan. Respect for human rights reduces the number of refugees who flee their country because of abuses such as political persecution. Since a decision has been made to have these Afghans in Uganda, am sure they have been counseled and trained on how to live in a foreign country.
However, nobody has prepared Ugandans on how to live with such an alien group, atleast we have a lot in common with the Sudanese, Rwandese and the Congolese but for Afghans, it will not be easy for Ugandans to co-exist with them. If this is not handled well, social dimensions of life in local communities shall grossly be affected by the long-term presence of these people paying particular attention to feelings of safety, social networks and trust.
Indeed as 51 Afghans refugees arrived in Uganda on Wednesday morning and others expected later on in the night, scores of Ugandan nationals deemed to have been sympathetic to the Americans remain trapped in Afghanistan which takes me back to the argument of taking care of others while our own are neglected. We are told that these Ugandans are finding it hard to go past the Taliban strong holds in order to access the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul yet there is a looming dead line issued by the new Taliban Administration to have all foreigners exited before the 31st August. One of the conditions to Americans should be that their next flight should include all Ugandans in Afghanistan hoping that we have the capacity to identify where they are. For God and my Country
The author, Roger Wadada Musaalo is a Lawyer, human rights activist, researcher, and politician