Government tasked to return Ugandans stranded in Asia, Egypt

Parliament discussed a safe return of Ugandans held captive by rebels in Myanmar and those detained in Arab countries over migration-related issues.

The Government and the opposition leadership in Parliament on Thursday pulled ropes about what should be done to ensure a safe return of Ugandans held captive by rebels in Myanmar and those detained in Arab countries over migration-related issues.

This was after State Minister for Foreign Affairs (Regional Affairs) John Mulimba informed Parliament that the government is counting on bilateral ties with Myanmar to help rescue over 30 Ugandans being held captive in two rebel camps in the Asian country.

The Minister was presenting a statement in response to Shadow Minister Muwada Nkunyingi’s report last week that about 450 Ugandans were being held by rebels in Myanmar. Muwada had told Parliament that there are other Ugandans, mostly domestic workers, that are on the verge of being imprisoned in Egypt if they don’t pay fines for illegal stay.

Mulimba, while confirming that there are indeed Ugandans under rebel captivity, informed Parliament of the process so far taken by the government to secure them.

Currently, the known records of Ugandans in rebel territories are 30. They are held in two camps, namely, 16 persons in Bailo compound, Kayin state, and 14 in the UK Compound, said Minister Mulimba.

Explaining the fate of Ugandans stranded in different countries, Mulimba informed Parliament that having been trafficked in the promises of getting jobs in the Middle East and other Asian countries, it is believed that the Ugandans suffering under rebel captivity in Myanmar went through Malaysia, but after arriving in Kuala Lumpur, they were trafficked to war-torn country.

Struggles in Cairo

Mulimba also responded to Nkunyingi’s report about the Ugandans who are stranded in Egypt after failing to renew their visas. He revealed that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has struggled to enumerate the exact number of Ugandans in Egypt because most of them, depending on how they left the country, don’t register with the Mission in Cairo.

Some of the migrant groups have already submitted approximately 60 Ugandans in need of evacuation and stating that they were unable to meet the conditions set forth by the Egyptian Government. The exact number of Ugandans staying in Egypt is unknown mainly because Ugandans don’t register their presence with the Mission, and secondly, because those who are illegally in the country cannot have their records updated by authorities, he said.

Nkunyingi, MP for Kyadondo East, had told Parliament that these stranded Ugandans have been given a deadline of March 15th, 2024, to leave Egypt or else they are made to pay heavy fines, and some may end up in prison.

The Minister revealed that the data so far accumulated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs shows that the current number of distressed Ugandans in Myanmar, India and Egypt is over 290 people, and there are efforts through the different Missions to rescue them.

Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja gave more light on the efforts the government is undertaking to ensure the safe return of both the stranded domestic workers in India, the Middle East and Egypt and those under rebel captivity in Myanmar.

She said that the government first received reports of Ugandans being held under captivity in Myanmar in October last year, and different steps have been taken, but only four have since been evacuated.

The issue of our youth being stranded in Myanmar came to my office in October, and we held meetings with the Myanmar government. Recently, I had another meeting with IOM (International Organisation for Migration) in Italy together with the President of Kenya. Most of the people they are taking to Myanmar are youths who are highly trained IT experts. IOM told us they are going to engage with the government of Myanmar so that our people can be rescued. I am told they have rescued four, and they are in Uganda here, said Nabbanja

Nabbanja told lawmakers that other Ugandan youths find themselves in Myanmar after being promised good-paying jobs in Thailand by their traffickers.

Nkunyingi rebottle

Nkunyingi castigated the government for failing to trace all Ugandans who are suffering in the Diaspora, saying that as opposition, they have all the information to confirm that those under rebel captivity in Myanmar are 450 people. He asked the government not to rely only on bilateral relations with Myanmar but to do whatever is possible to ensure that the young people return home.

Several Ugandans are in different compounds. Many Ugandans are distributed in various camps in Myanmar. We equally have a number of those names. The matter at hand is urgent. These are Ugandans in the hands of the rebels. They are at risk of life and death. We must look at urgent measures to rescue these Ugandans, said Nkunyingi.

The Shadow Minister, who advised the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to prevail on Embassies to always issue travel advisories to Ugandans in case of any anticipated danger, suggested the government open lines of negotiations with the Myanmar rebels.

We must also find some measures to reach these rebel groups. We find the Minister’s statement very shallow; you cannot say these Ugandans are on their own. We have a national carrier which does not even make profits; we can use it to evacuate Ugandans, he added.

However, Nabbanja said that there is a need for Parliament to trade with caution, especially when it comes to issues of people being held by rebel groups, adding that the process is being handled through the right channels to ensure the safe release of the captives.

I want all of us to know that our children are before rebel groups and we have to handle this with care. We have also involved Interpol together with our ESO (External Security Organisation) operatives, and something is being done. We are not in charge of the government in Myanmar, and we are not in charge of the rebels, Nabbanja added.

Deputy Speaker Thomas Tayebwa rejected the opposition’s suggestion that an ad-hoc Committee of Parliament be instituted to address the matter, saying the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should, through the Embassies, establish ways of helping the stranded Ugandans.

It is a policy of any government and any parliament to encourage its citizens in foreign countries to respect the laws of foreign countries, Tayebwa said of Ugandans held in Cairo.

Tayebwa said that while on an official visit to Bahrain last year, the plight of stranded Ugandans came to his notice and after assessing the situation; he personally bought air tickets for 28 people to return home while others who did not want to fly back wanted cash handouts.

Although tens of thousands of Ugandans are in Asian countries to legally work as domestic workers, thousands more find their way out of the country with the help of traffickers, hence finding themselves in Middle Eastern states working without contracts.

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