UNHCR chief vows to do more for displaced in northern Uganda
KALONGO, Uganda, March 5 (UNHCR) - UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres pledged Tuesday to do more to support the return of hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people (IDPs) in northern Uganda.
During a visit to the north, where an estimated 850,000 people still live in IDP sites, Guterres said it was "our obligation to help," adding that Uganda had been a generous host nation to refugees from neighbouring countries and deserved support and solidarity from the international community.
"All of us in the international community are ready to work in support of the Ugandan government," Guterres told hundreds of IDPs gathered in a dusty football field in Kalongo, an IDP site which hosted 65,000 people at its peak in 2005. Some 17,000 IDPs remain in this area in northern Uganda.
"If we join hands, if we work together it will be possible to make sure that roads, water, education and health facilities are built," said the High Commissioner, who visited Kalongo with the Luxembourg Minister for Development, Cooperation and Humanitarian Affairs Jean-Louis Schiltz.
Luxembourg is by far UNHCR's top donor per capita, contributing US$25 per inhabitant in 2006 and 2007. Introducing the minister to the IDPs, Guterres described Luxembourg as "a small country with a big heart."
Two decades of fighting between the Ugandan government and the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) drove almost 2 million people from their homes in northern Uganda and devastated infrastructure and services. An estimated 1 million people have returned home over the past 18 months amid peace talks in Sudan between the rival sides.
Guterres was in Kalongo on the second day of his eight-day visit to review UNHCR programmes for refugees and IDPs in Uganda and Tanzania. He told Chidonia Anyiek, a displaced mother of nine, that he looked forward to visiting her in a few months time in her own home.
"If peace talks end positively, we will go back home," replied Anyiek. She and many others in Kalongo are pegging their return home to the signing of a final peace deal soon between the government and the LRA in Juba, South Sudan.
"It is clear that you all want the peace deal to be signed and after that you want investments to be made in health, water, education and roads to help you go home," the High Commissioner noted. "I am sure that a large majority want to go home to farm the land and we are here to support that," he added.
Minister Schiltz, meanwhile, urged the IDPs at Kalongo, "Let me be your ambassador with the other 26 countries in the European Union so that when people see there is peace in northern Uganda, they do not forget you. We will help convince the other countries to do what we are doing."
Earlier Tuesday, Guterres and Schiltz visited Mulanda transit centre in eastern Uganda and met Kenyans who fled the violence that erupted in their country after elections in late December. The transit centre hosts some 1,600 of the nearly 12,000 Kenyans refugees in Uganda.
Guterres welcomed the recent signing of a political settlement in Kenya and said he hoped this might spur the return home of the refugees. He called for forgiveness on all sides, saying it was needed for reconciliation.
"Justice and forgiveness, that is what you need to be able to return and live in peace in your communities. The international community must step in and support your efforts towards reconciliation," Guterres told the Kenyan refugees.
On Wednesday, Guterres and the Luxembourg delegation will witness the repatriation from Arua in northern Uganda of south Sudanese refugees. Since the start of UNHCR-run voluntary repatriations in May 2006, almost 35,000 Sudanese have returned home from Uganda.
During the Tanzanian leg of the trip, the High Commissioner will inaugurate a two-year programme to end one of the world's most protracted refugee situations - the exile of some 218,000 Burundians who fled their country in 1972. It will be one of UNHCR's most important programmes on the African continent this year.