By Mubiru Ivan
Officials from the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) are on spot for carrying out unlawful land evictions, crimes against humanity and torture against the indigenous people of Kyangwali refugee settlement camp.
This was revealed by Kyangwali locals while meeting the Committee on Presidential Affairs during a fact-finding visit to the contested land in Hoima District.
“Government efforts to better the lives of refugees has rendered us landless in our own country,” said Peter Issayana , a father of six, who claims he owned 10 acres of land in the area on which he had a banana plantation, fruit trees and other food crops.
During the public hearing held at the camp headquarters, witnesses narrated gruesome acts of torture by the army and police, allegedly aided by the Principal Settlement Officer, Charles Bafaki, who works with the OPM and Vianey Lutaaya from Ministry of Lands.
“By the 1950s, I was not born when this refugee settlement was established; I also rely on documents available,” Bafaki responded while making his presentation to the Committee.
However, locals rubbished the 2013 Oketta Report which recommended forceful eviction.
On August 20, 2013, over 60,000 residents were evicted by the army and police in Bukinda Parish to secure land for hosting Congolese refugees. The families later sued government, claiming to have lived with refugees since the 1960s when the refugee resettlement was started.
On April 2015, Justice Simon Byabakama, who was the then Masindi Resident Judge, ordered the boundaries of the contested land to be resurveyed to ascertain whether the land claimed by the evicted families is within the resettlement scheme.
A joint survey report was submitted to court, which is yet to rule on the matter.
During the hearing of the case, some families were allowed back on the land.
“Currently we are being squeezed in one acre per family, forced to relocate and given no compensation for the development on our land. We pray that we follow the 1998 survey and life continues,” said the representative of Bukinda residents, Nestori Tumwesigye.
Daniel Muheirwe (MP Buhaguzi County) who presented the petition to Parliament on September 19, 2018, said the land hosting Kyangwali refugee settlement was donated by the Bunyoro kingdom in 1950 to host Rwandan refugees.
“In 1998, government demarcated boundaries for the 91 square-km piece of land and the boundaries have been respected by the local communities. I wonder why government plans to extend the boundaries of Kyangwali refugee settlement by annexing 28 villages in Kasonga Parish,” said Muheirwe in his petition.
As a result, on September 20, 2018, Parliament directed the Office of the Prime Minister to immediately halt the proposed expansion of Kyangwali refugee settlement until the contested issues are resolved.