By Tabu Butagira
June 20, 2010 (Kampala) — Nearly 4,000 mainly Sudanese refugees have declined to go home and are still holed up in Arua District, citing inter-tribal fights and lack of HIV/Aids anti-retroviral drugs in their country.
At celebrations on Friday to mark the World Refugee Day, which officially falls today, refugees from the restive Jonglei State in South Sudan also expressed worry about deplorable social services there.
Mr John Alinaitwe, the district’s refugee desk officer, said whereas the Uganda government will continue to support the refugees, they have a better choice to go home and contribute towards rebuilding their country.
“We will not force any refugee to go where they don’t feel it’s safe but we will continue to encourage them to take advantage of the prevailing peace in South Sudan and return to develop their area,” Mr Alinaitwe said.
United Nations High Commissioner Refugees António Guterres travelled to Arua in June 2006 to launch voluntarily repatriation of Sudanese refugees living in Uganda, an exercise expected to have ended by now.
It has emerged that the UN refugee agency, which in the past few years complained of shrinking donor funding, is stuck with thousands of unwilling refugees it can’t take home forcibly – and without stirring international hue-and-cry.
There were more than 60,000 Sudanese refugees in Arua District alone – and 170, 000 countrywide – at the inauguration of voluntary repatriation, a year after Sudan’s decades-old liberation war ended with signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.
Yesterday, Mr Alinaitwe said there are Kenyan, Congolese and Central African Republic nationals among the refugee population stuck in Rhino-camp and Imvepi refugee settlements.
“Some of those who have not gone home are students, especially those in the candidate classes who want to complete their studies in Uganda,” he said. “We have been sensitising and mobilising them and hope to repatriate another batch this month.”
The Arua event, meant for entire West Nile region, was celebrated under this year’s World Refugee Day theme: ‘They took my home, but they can’t take my future.’
Earlier, UNHCR-Implementing partners, among them the Danish Refugee Council, German Development Services (Ded), AHA and Arua District Directorate of Health Services showcased technologies for improved agricultural productivity as well as teaching the refugees condom use to avoid catching HIV/Aids. (Daily Monitor)