Children shelter in the tent at sango bay in 2013

EXPELLED AND STATELESS: 11 Years After Expulsion From Uganda-Tanzania Border, 1,240 People Seek Justice In EACJ

By The Insight Post Uganda

Some of the refugees in Sango Bay refugee camp in 2013
Some of the refugees in Sango Bay refugee camp in 2013

Kampala, Uganda

In a deeply emotional and complex legal dispute, 1,240 people who were forcibly evicted and expelled from Tanzania’s Kagera region in 2013, have brought their complaints before the East African Court of Justice situated in Arusha, Tanzania.

These victims of the mass eviction, led by former Deputy Attorney General Mwesigwa Rukutana, seek both justice and compensation, claiming that the actions of the governments of Uganda and Tanzania contravene the treaty for the establishment of the East African Community.

The origins of this crisis date back to July 29, 2013, when then-President of Tanzania- Jakaya Kikwete, issued a two-week ultimatum, resulting in the expulsion of over 4,000 individuals from the Kagera region.

Kikwete labelled them as undocumented and irregular migrants and urged them to return to their respective countries of origin, alleging a disregard for Tanzania’s entry and naturalization regulations.

This operation, known as ‘Operation Kimbunga’ or ‘Operation Hurricane,’ involved Tanzanian authorities, including the police, immigration department, intelligence unit, defence forces, and local youths who drove the ill-fated group out of Tanzania.

The expelled individuals included mainly men, children, and women and the elderly trekked long distances up to Uganda. They left behind valuable assets such as land, livestock, houses, and plantations, primarily because of the constrained timeframe provided by the authorities.

The forced expulsion led to a complex diplomatic dispute between Uganda and Tanzania. While Tanzanian officials advised against repatriating the expelled individuals, Uganda, initially reluctant to accept them, eventually made a formal appeal to the United Nations for assistance.

As a result, the Uganda government had to resettle them at Sango Bay in Kakuuto sub-county, Kyotera district until they were relocated to Kyaka I and Kyaka II refugee camps in Kyegegwa in June 2016, as per the plan laid by the Office of the Prime minister.

Despite promises that non-Ugandans would be returned to their home countries once identification processes were completed, the majority of the expelled individuals had long-term ties to Tanzania and identified with it.

Their lives were upset and they found themselves in a state of confusion, as neither country recognised them as citizens.

According to Rukutana, the victims include individuals who were citizens of Tanzania by birth, descent, or naturalisation, as well as immigrants who had lived in Tanzania for decades and intermarried with Tanzanians.

Even cattle keepers from Uganda, who had valid licenses and permits from Tanzanian authorities to graze in the region, were swept up in the expulsion, along with minors, pregnant women, the elderly, and the disabled.

Following the expulsion order, Tanzanian authorities indiscriminately seized and forcibly expelled these individuals, leaving them with nothing. Their homes were burned, and some were sold by local leaders. Families were separated, and some lost their lives due to the enforcement of this unlawful operation.

Despite efforts to address this crisis, both governments have failed to take effective action, leaving the victims in a state of continuous suffering. The government of Uganda is specifically accused of failing in its constitutional duty to protect the victims’ inherent human rights, such as the right to life and property ownership.

The lead petitioner, Yofesi Jafferson Karugaba, points out that those expelled include elderly people, pregnant women, the disabled, and other vulnerable individuals who were arbitrarily expelled from Tanzania and forced across the border.

As a result, they have found themselves living in concentration camps in Uganda, including Isingiro district, Kyaka I and II in Kyegegwa facility, and other scattered locations across the East African region. Their lives are characterized by agony and distress, as they struggle to find stable places to live and work.

Karugaba adds that the victims, now deprived of citizenship, live in abject poverty and cannot access basic necessities. They have been rejected and abandoned by both Uganda and Tanzania, leaving them stateless, destitute, and without any sense of belonging.

In their plea to the East African Court of Justice, the victims are seeking a declaration that both governments failed to implement the orders compelling them to constitute Joint Verification Committees aimed at settling, compensating, and addressing the rights of the expelled persons.

The governments of Uganda and Tanzania are yet to be summoned to file their defence before the matter can proceed to a hearing at the Arusha-based court.

This complex and deeply distressing case underscores the critical need for the East African Court of Justice to address the plight of the expelled individuals and seek a just resolution for those caught in the crossfire of political decisions.

The victims, who have suffered for nearly a decade, deserve recognition, compensation, and the chance to rebuild their lives.

Death At Sango Bay Resettlement Camp

Thousands of refugees underwent different struggles at the resettlement camp. Appalling conditions within the camp forced more than 500 refugees to flee, and over 100 tragically lost their lives since August 2013.

The camp authorities, including camp commandants, cell leaders, and village health teams (VHTs), reported these heartbreaking statistics. The refugees were confronted by acute food shortages, insufficient healthcare services, overcrowding, and poor hygiene, which compelled them to seek better opportunities outside the camp.

Some of the raised tents in Sango Bay Refugee camp in 2013
Some of the raised tents in Sango Bay Refugee camp in 2013

Erias Byaruhanga, then Camp Chairperson, revealed that many refugees have left the camp in search of improved living conditions, medical accessibility, and food in the surrounding communities.

It is primarily men and young women between the ages of 20 and 35 who have ventured outside the camp in search of casual labour to support their families. 

However, opportunities for work in plantations and ranches in towns like Mutukula, Kakuuto, Rakai, Minziiro, and other Sub-counties often lead them to abandon the camp.

Byaruhanga further lamented that men in the communities surrounding the camp frequently took their women away with promises of better shelter, food, and care, resulting in the breakup of families.

The poor health services within the camp, especially during the rainy season, forced many refugees to leave, as the camp floods and shallow toilets become submerged, putting their lives at risk from diseases like typhoid, malaria, and cholera.

These refugees are often compelled to sell their meagre food rations to access treatment from private clinics, further exacerbating their precarious situation.

Despite the government’s efforts to provide refuge, the camp’s conditions led to dozens of deaths due to hunger and diseases such as typhoid, malnutrition, malaria, and anaemia.

While records at Kakuuto Health Centre IV indicated fewer than 90 deaths, camp authorities argued the number is closer to 180, and refugees claim more than 260 have succumbed to various ailments. Most of the deceased are neonates, children under 5 years old, and the elderly aged 55 and above.

According to the Health Authorities, the death toll began to rise in July 2014, primarily due to pneumonia, acute malnutrition, severe malaria, diarrhea, typhoid, anaemia, HIV/AIDS, and other ailments. 

Currently, the refugees’ graves in Mutukula and Sango Bay are unmarked and nearly unidentifiable. due to the expanding town council, buildings have extended the burial ground and the biggest part erased for the construction of houses. 


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