West should learn lessons from Uganda - UNHCR chief

By Daniel Wallis

ARUA, Uganda, June 20 (Reuters) - Nations like Uganda that host hundreds of thousands of refugees from neighbouring African conflicts should serve as a lesson to the West, where asylum has become confused with terrorism and crime, the new head of the U.N.'s refugee agency said on Monday.

Marking World Refugee Day with his first overseas trip in the role, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres was visiting camps in one of the most remote corners of the world -- northwest Uganda near the borders with Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

"I believe Uganda is an extraordinary example of generosity towards refugees," the former Portuguese prime minister said.

"This is a lesson for rich nations where the issue of genuine asylum seekers has become confused with illegal immigrants and terrorism," he told reporters.

Uganda hosts some 220,000 Sudanese refugees -- more than any other country neighbouring Sudan -- most of them near the border in sprawling camps north and northwest of Arua town.

Despite a deal in January to end decades of war in southern Sudan, aid workers say more than 7,000 refugees have crossed the border into Uganda since then.

The refugees say they are fleeing hunger and attacks by armed militias, and some say they also left because growing tribal tensions as power is shared following the peace deal.

"Refugees here have had generous support," Guterres said. "Land has been granted to them, and they have been integrated into communities, and that is something that is really difficult to find anywhere in the world."


Uganda also hosts thousands of refugees from eastern Congo, and some 1.6 million Ugandans remain uprooted in their own country by a separate war between the government and brutal northern rebels from the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA).

Guterres said the welcome Uganda has given refugees should be a lesson to rich nations, where he said the plight of genuine asylum seekers had become mixed up with fears about terrorism and illegal immigration.

"Refugees do not migrate because they want to improve their situation, they migrate because they are being persecuted," he said. "At times I feel ashamed that we cannot do more to help."

Since the 1.6 million forced from their homes by the LRA insurgency are classed as internally-displaced people (IDPs) who have not crossed any border, UNHCR has no mandate to help.

Some 7.6 million people are classed as IDPs worldwide, and the agency is becoming increasingly involved in trying to develop programmes for them alongside other refugees.

Guterres, who replaced former Dutch Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers, is due to meet President Yoweri Museveni on Wednesday.


Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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