The search for security
The UN High Commissioner's Office was established for the primary function of providing protection to refugees. Although protection officers are often attached to sub-offices, all UNHCR staff are advised to familiarize themselves with the key international instruments which set out the High Commissioner's functions and responsibilities. (Handbook for Emergencies ).
Because the protection responsibilities of the High Commissioner have been placed on him by the UN General Assembly, he is not therefore dependent upon a request by the host government. 'These activities reflect UNHCR's universally recognized right of initiative in exercising its protection responsibilities as an entirely non-political humanitarian and social body.' (ibid. :8). The Handbooks go on to advise field-workers on policy and practical action. (1982 :8-14; 1983 :206-12). It is emphasized that at times refugees may require protection even before their status has been determined and noted that the aim 'is to secure treatment in accordance with universally recognised humanitarian principles not directly linked to the status of those in need. In short, when in doubt, act'. (1982:8.)
The problem of the physical security of refugees is finally the responsibility of the host government. As Zia Rizvi has pointed out, the physical protection of the individual in a country of asylum is a lacuna. There are no adequate answers to the question of security and it is necessary, he said, 'to go into areas that are unexplored and that are not normally talked about. The real problem is that the individual... has to depend on the state for protection, the monster that we have created...which has further monsters at its disposal, like the notion of sovereignty and the question of national security - all the arguments you hear from a Minister of Interior, or a policeman, or a soldier.' If the notion of state sovereignty is not tackled, he warned, 'we are going to be a race of lemmings.' (Alternative Viewpoints 1984.) The role of UNHCR in protecting refugees in the country of asylum in relation to the state raises many difficult questions. Most are beyond the scope of a single study of one emergency response to an influx of refugees. Hopefully however the account of security problems in the southern Sudan which follows, illustrates the urgent need to pay more attention to these matters.
With the exception of the insecurity caused by UNLA incursions, this discussion aims to take a look at protection from a non-legalistic viewpoint by examining some of the ways in which the failures of the assistance programme served to exacerbate the insecurity of refugees and their hosts. Insecurity, it is suggested, was increased as a result of weak policy, failure to consult, failure to report, inefficiency, the lethargy of individuals or the lack of sensitivity, courage, imagination, or commitment, insufficient resources, or, in some cases, what appears to be complicity with certain international and intra-national interests. These causes of physical insecurity could have been avoided and I try to suggest a number of ways this might have been done. But a major cause of the insecurity, the political consequences of the impact of outside intervention and aid, mentioned again in Chapter Eight, cannot be avoided by such simple measures as I suggest.
The importance of going 'into areas unexplored and that are not normally talked about' is demonstrated by the fact that aside from the several thousand interviews conducted for this study, the greatest amount of paper I carried away from southern Sudan documented serious breaches of the human rights of refugees. These include cases involving the confiscation of property on entry into the Sudan or at roadblocks (official or unofficial), false imprisonment, discriminatory treatment by courts, beating, serious wounding, torture, forced movement and interference with the freedom of movement, unfair dismissal, outbreaks of violence between hosts and refugees, theft, illegal taxation, assault, loss of rights to agricultural land, forced labour, kidnap, rape and murder. These crimes were variously committed by ordinary civilians, and soldiers (Sudanese and Ugandan), security personnel, chiefs and policemen. For example, on 10 September 1982 a policeman went berserk, shot a Sudanese and threw a hand grenade into a refugee woman's hut. She narrowly escaped. Crimes were often committed by refugees against other refugees, as well as against Sudanese.
The actual cases collected involved perhaps 1,000 individuals. Yet, as one report of a three day protection mission in August 1982 put it, 'The civilian population appears to accept the refugees without major problems, as most of them remember their own flight to Uganda some years ago... there seems to be no general problem of mistreatment of refugees apart from those rather isolated cases.'
Given that the population of Yei River District had grown from probably no more than 100,000 people living in widely scattered homesteads and villages to over 300,000 in only four years, perhaps it is remarkable that relations were no more antagonistic than they were. This is especially so when one considers that the influx radically altered the characteristics of the population as a whole in terms of such important social variables as religion, educational level, language, occupational skills, and ethnicity which greatly disturbed existing power relations in the district.
Even so, if the numbers of individuals who suffered loss of rights or who fell prey to arbitrary discrimination reflect tolerable levels, why should UNHCR or anyone else be concerned with the question of the physical security of refugees in a host country like the Sudan? Clearly they do not. Moreover, refugees are most unlikely to achieve economic independence in a climate of insecurity. A minimal requirement to allow both refugees and hosts to cope peacefully with such radical social and economic transformations is some consistency and predictability in the content, administration, and enforcement of the rules.
The insecurity of land tenure illustrates this problem. The assistance programme depended entirely on the capacity of refugees to earn their living through agriculture. In agreement with UNHCR, the central government in Khartoum had guaranteed them access to sufficient land. Yet no refugee in Yei River District had absolute security of his usufruct rights to land, even those which he had negotiated on an individual basis with a local farmer. It was very common for a refugee to be thrown off a piece of land after he had worked to clear it and had cultivated one crop. To provide refugees with security for subsistence agriculture as their means of livelihood requires local people to be convinced of the overall advantages to them in accommodating strangers.
The competition for available land, which encouraged local land-owners to reclaim land brought into production by refugee labour, could have been reduced had more thought been given to the problem. For example, had funds used for building the primary schools, which refugees had demonstrated that they could build themselves, been allocated to a programme to clear the tsetse fly from vast areas of otherwise arable land, competition for land would have been greatly reduced. And, if the insecurity of land tenure was more a function of overcrowding in some areas than it was of land shortage, then opening up these unused areas would have enabled the population to be spread out more evenly.
The failure to consider such dimensions of protection at the outset of the emergency, and to mobilize all possible resources to prevent insecurity, resulted in a gradual escalation of tensions between refugees and their hosts. Each protection report from Yei included longer and longer lists of violations of the rights of refugees and each concluded with an urgent request for a protection officer to be posted to the south. Take, for example, the 6 July 1983 report from just one settlement, Pakula Naima:
Each case involved beating, 'some more severe than others'. This report included details of similar thefts suffered by refugees near Limuru. Moreover, when police went to take statements at the hospital from some of the wounded, one of the victims was arrested. By this time relations had deteriorated so that one of the settlement officers had made a rule that a refugee could not send letters without his first reading them.
As the programme officer put it, 'It is without any doubt that the arrival of big numbers of refugees has "upset" life in this area. What is happening here is in a way a "normal" reaction, however it needs close attention as refugees become easily victims [sic]. On the other hand discussions with local authorities would give us a better picture of their views and problems.'
But the protection problems observed in southern Sudan were not simply the result of the enormous social dislocation caused by an increased population and the impact of an aid programme managed by outsiders, the situation must be viewed in the light of wider influences of both inter-state and global politics.
Refugees and the interests of the state
During their increasingly frequent forays across the Uganda-Sudan border, the UNLA looted, burned houses, and murdered refugees and Sudanese, untold numbers of self-settled refugees were abducted and taken back to Uganda. Incursions into the Sudan by the UNLA posed great threat to the security of refugees and Sudanese. They were the very forces which led the Ugandans to their 'well- founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, or political opinion...' (para. 6 & 7)
The growing number of attacks on refugees across international borders by the armies which originally caused the exodus is alarming. There is a 'new mood' in Africa concerning refugees. On the one hand, host governments have increasingly demanded greater financial commitment from UNHCR; on the other, there is an ominous number of cases where state policy has manipulated sentiment in such a way as to endanger the security of refugees.
The unwillingness of the UN to sanction its members who carry out such serious breaches of international law raises the question of whether any organization which directly depends on the support of these same member states is competent to carry out the protection functions with which it has been entrusted. (Guest 1983.) As the main financial support for UNHCR's budget comes from a minority of UN members, most of whom are western orientated, conceivably this could at times limit its freedom to speak out against the actions of one of these nations? On at least one occasion, a member state tried to put pressure on UNHCR and the Sudan government to act in contravention of the Convention. When Ambassador Douglas, an adviser to President Reagan, visited the Sudan in 1983, he referred to the refugee influx in eastern Sudan as
And, as one protection officer put it in a discussion with the lawyer on my team, 'We should not make people feel that we are the advocates of the refugees. We should sacrifice some cases for the general good of the refugees, because if we push too much with cases of refugees it may endanger the work of the UN'.
In Europe there are many human rights groups which take a special interest in the welfare of refugees, but in Africa UNHCR - and on a much more limited scale, the OAU - are the only organizations with offices established to undertake this responsibility. Amnesty is an independently funded international humanitarian organization, but as far as refugees are concerned, its work is largely confined to cases where refugees are under threat of refoulement (forced repatriation). Even then its role is very limited, for when there was some outcry concerning the refoulement of refugees from Djibouti back to Ethiopia, Amnesty was far from prominent. Lack of funds may prevent Amnesty from maintaining a presence in areas of such special risk, but there is an urgent need for the continual monitoring of the protection services to refugees by some independent body.
As Rizvi maintained, the international community must be prepared to ensure the victim's protection regardless of whether he is fleeing from economic, ecological, or political disaster. Africa is a continent poised on the brink of self-destruction. He states clearly what is so often forgotten: that political and economic stability are inseparable.
In the first instance, UNHCR is charged with the responsibility of promoting the granting of asylum and ensuring that no one is forcibly returned to the country from which they have fled. Determination of status, the process through which (normally) an individual refugee must first pass before he can expect the restoration of his or her other human rights, is not usually an issue when an African host country is receiving an influx of refugees. Asylum is usually granted en masse, although there are exceptions, where groups have been refused entry or detained and refouled. Only much later are questions likely to be raised concerning the status of particular individuals. But security within the country of asylum cannot simply be guaranteed by the granting of asylum. As Zia Rizvi put it, protection in these terms involves an international presence to encourage states to respect their obligations to give asylum: 'It more or less stops there. But for the individual refugee, the problems more or less start there, when the person is not refouled and is going to face a future of uncertainty.' (ibid.) His or her first task is to secure printed or written evidence of refugee status from the national and then the UN authorities.
Certainly a major threat to a refugee's security is the economic loss which accompanies uprooting. Quite rightly UNHCR has been given the role of coordinating material assistance to refugees. Without at least basic food and medical security, no individual or community can be expected to recover from the trauma of the loss and crisis which is associated with becoming a refugee. As UNHCR's Handbook properly emphasizes, its protection role can only be effectively implemented if its response to an influx is immediate, well coordinated, and humane. In the absence of any of these characteristics, the delivery of an assistance programme may actually contribute to the insecurity of both refugee and host.
Refugees, according to the UNHCR Handbook, should be 'treated as persons whose tragic plight requires special understanding and sympathy; they should receive all necessary assistance and they should not be subject to cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment.' (1982 :10.) UNHCR has the duty to ensure that the human rights of refugees are upheld in their country of asylum and that they are placed on the same footing as are the nationals of that country. The Convention stipulates these rights against illegal arrest, detention, and the like, as well as their economic and social rights which are also to be upheld.
UNHCR also has the responsibility to promote the enactment of national legislation regarding the rights of refugees which are in accord with international laws. It must also promote a wider knowledge and understanding at all levels in the host society of these international principles for the treatment of refugees. Finally, UNHCR must undertake to work towards a situation when refugees may drop their special status either by returning to their country of origin or acquiring the right of permanent residence if not the nationality of their country of asylum.
Leaving aside the question of whether or not, or how, or the extent to which, member states of the UN (or that smaller group which contributes most to its budget) act to inhibit the UNHCR in the delivery of protection services, what resources does the High Commissioner have at hand to uphold the rights of refugees? Protection officers are always quick to point out that UNHCR has no army or access to coercive power to act on behalf of refugees. But in the Sudan, UNHCR's power to influence through discourse, diplomacy, or the use of the media has hardly been exploited. Nor has it apparently been recognised that the use of its economic power, the aid programme itself, has enormous potential for preventing many of the situations which give rise to breaches of the human rights of refugees.
In Sudan, despite the enormous political and economic constraints under which it worked, the office of the Commissioner for Refugees (COMREF) developed a remarkably humane policy for refugees. Its officers frequently argued against the policies of other sections of the government on behalf of refugees both as individuals and as a community. For example, there were several occasions when Nemeiry ordered the expulsion of refugees from Khartoum. As a result, COMREF negotiated a policy which resulted in a set of guidelines, 'Regularization of Refugee Stay in Khartoum', but it lacked funds to make these widely available.
Sudanow, a government funded magazine, took a very enlightened approach to the question of refugees within the nation's borders. So did the national television services. UNHCR could similarly have made use of the potential of the media, for example, by offering its many films to local television, but only one was shown during my stay in the Sudan. More seriously, only occasionally did the Khartoum UNHCR office have in its employ a protection officer who willingly and actively co-operated with COMREF by discussing cases or by supplying it with reports from the field. In fact, it appears that very few of the myriad of reports which left the Yei UNHCR office concerning protection issues were ever passed on to COMREF for action.
Apparently some protection officers see themselves only in terms of their role as international 'diplomats'. If the statements of one protection officer in the field are any guide, there appears to have been a dangerous development in UNHCR's understanding and interpretation of its role. For example, in the interview in Yei on 22 August 1983, one protection officer explained:
Again at a later point in this same interview, he said,
Regarding a case involving the confiscation of a vehicle,
On hearing that UNHCR gave fuel for the refugee to take the lorry, the exhibition in the case, to Juba, and forgetting that this vehicle would have allowed this refugee to retain his independence, the protection officer said:
He criticized the actions of a previous protection officer who had been concerned about this case and who encouraged the UNHCR to help the victim take it up in court. When he heard that the stolen lorry was now in Zaire, he suggested that the refugee should just 'forget about the lorry'. On the other hand, the protection files in the Yei office demonstrate a considerable degree of success by the programme officer and his Sudanese colleague, the project manager, in intervening in dozens of cases involving breaches of the rights of individual refugees. After reading the files, the protection officer remarked that he was surprised that the programme officer had not been asked to leave the Sudan. Infuriated, the programme officer requested in writing (29 August 1983) that this protection officer never be sent to his field office again.
The Sudan government long ago acceded to the international conventions concerning the rights of refugees. In 1974 it enacted its own legislation which acknowledged most of these internationally recognized rights. But Sudan does not have the funds or other resources required to translate or disseminate the law, or to issue the identity cards which each refugee has both the right and the responsibility to carry. It is much less able to ensure a trained and equipped judiciary and police force in the area where hosts and refugees were expected to accommodate each other in a very short space of time. Even a copy of Sudan's Asylum Act (1974) was not available in Juba's UNHCR office until 1983 and none of the agencies working in the area were aware of its existence. The protection officer whom I have quoted had also not acquired a copy of the Sudan's laws; according to the programme officer, who had longer discussions with him, this protection officer had not even informed himself of such basic facts as the structure of local administration, or the hierarchy and powers of the courts in the southern region.
Seizing the opportunity
The implementation of an aid programme for refugees could be the opportunity for a host government to raise the standards of procedure at the local level through consultation, training programmes and through supplying copies of handbooks and guidelines. UNHCR could play an extremely positive role but funds must first be available for it to concentrate on this neglected area of development. It is not only the UNHCR which has failed to recognize the urgent need to upgrade the administrative and judicial capacities of poor countries. Many a development project fails because of the lack of a trained administrator. The success of all programmes which aim to improve local conditions depends, in the final analysis, on these services.
Always, the most significant resource for the host government and the international community in coping with an influx of refugees, is the hospitality of the local people. Hospitality is a spontaneous response to human suffering which is not based on an understanding of international agreements or complicated standards of human rights which states have contracted to uphold. In southern Sudan it was the only resource upon which the refugees could rely. Especially in the early period of the influx and before international agencies arrived on the scene, many Sudanese acted at considerable personal cost on behalf of Ugandans. For example, in KajoKaji a chief, Jafer Tongu, received hundreds of refugees on his own land. He bought food for them out of his own pocket and then rushed to Juba by motorcycle to demand that the government send lorries of food to keep the group alive. Much later, on 13 September 1983, when a group of Ugandan government and UPC party officials illegally entered the Sudan (one allegedly carrying a hand gun) and visited camps in his area, announcing they would be returning with lorries to take them back to Uganda, it was this same chief who alerted everyone concerned, even the President's office in Khartoum, to this breach of international law. Local officials, party to the illegal entry, successfully conspired to have him suspended from his position as chief, and a UNHCR officer dismissed the incident as unimportant, suggesting these 'visitors' were simply encouraging refugees to return to Uganda.
Nearly every refugee can relate stories of his or her first reception by local individuals who, in one way or another, attempted to give material expression to the sentence one so often hears on the lips of the Sudanese, 'Feel at home'. But in such a very poor country as Sudan, this genuine humanitarianism must be nurtured, developed and materially supported if it is not to be overwhelmed by the demands which will be placed upon it.
Since UNHCR protection officers are not involved in the work of administering aid programmes, they could involve themselves in promoting a sense of teamwork between refugees and members of the local community so that they share the responsibility for working out solutions. The onset of an emergency is the ideal time at which to establish such co-operation. It is crucial that the formal legal agreements into which the state has entered in order to qualify for external assistance for refugees should be explained without delay to local people. The rights of refugees to protection of life, property, freedom of movement, employment, agricultural land, education and medical services as well as their responsibility to their hosts must be made clear to all concerned.
Refugees need to be informed by their hosts about local conditions, the availability of agricultural land, and local customs for obtaining rights to its use; they should be given an overview of the economic limits of the society they have entered. Very few Ugandan refugees had ever set foot outside their country before seeking asylum in the Sudan. Some elementary geographical and demographic information would have encouraged many of them to move further inland rather than congesting the border areas during the first two years. Once in the settlements, had refugees been given a realistic overview of the situation in southern Sudan, rather than allowing them to retain unrealistic expectations for the aid programme, they, like many self-settled refugees, might have been motivated to work more closely with the Sudanese for their mutual betterment.
Refugees need detailed information about where and how to apply for work permits, or for trading licences, and on their liability for taxation. Refugees urgently require information on the structure of local government, the role of the police, proper procedures of arrest and trial and rights of appeal. Even discussing such issues can encourage an improvement in procedures. It was found, for example, that there were no written rules concerning market taxes and when further research on the markets in Yei River District was conducted in 1984, the local council felt prompted to form a committee and to devise regulations. (McGregor in Wilson et al. 1985.)
Group meetings of refugees with local hosts are the ideal method for transmitting such information and refugees should be encouraged to ask questions which are, in themselves, an important source of information for assessing their needs. Most important, discussions which include members of the local community will help identify both the available resources which may be shared with refugees and the additional infrastructural development which will be required to cope with the increased population.
From the outset of an emergency, UNHCR and government officials could use such opportunities to explain to the refugees the political and security constraints under which the assistance programme will work, constraints which will limit their freedom of action. This has important implications both for the degree of participation of refugees which will be tolerated by the government, and for the kinds of self-organization which will be allowed. It is a sensitive subject, but it cannot be avoided. Refugees must be informed of their host's relations and policy towards their country of origin. If this reality is faced squarely and openly, refugees will be able to devise strategies for survival on the basis of a clear understanding of the possible dangers they may encounter should they decide to remain 'too near' the border or to engage in activities which are in opposition to their host's policy.
One Sudanese official in the south was particularly adept at dealing with this problem. In one meeting with Ugandan leaders, for example, he related how he had been asked by a refugee if they could collect money and food for fighters in the bush. He asked leaders to warn their people not to be so naive. He said he knew this activity would be going on - after all, the Sudanese had been 'in the bush' for seventeen years and civilians would naturally be helping those who were fighting on their behalf. 'But', he warned them, 'don't tell me about it. You never know. I might be transferred to the Security or the Police and I would be forced to arrest you.' At the same time, he encouraged them to organize self-help community groups. Sudan has taken the lead in recognising refugee-based humanitarian groups. COMREF knows through experience that these organisations are far more efficient at delivering assistance to their community than international agencies.
Most refugee flows result from a political crisis and it is naive to believe that all refugees can be politically neutralised. (Given the kinds of regimes frown which they have fled, one might ask if it is even desirable to attempt to do so). Moreover, and despite the risks, it is essential that refugees be encouraged to reconstruct their community. As one perceptive refugee argues, there is a need for:
The idea of collective discussion at the outset of an emergency influx of refugees may be dismissed by policy-makers and agency personnel as too idealistic or naive, but this is the way the Sudanese project manager in Yei River District tried to deal with all matters which involved the local people and the refugees. Unfortunately he was not only limited by time, but by a vehicle which was frequently out of service.
Protection officers should not forget that even during the colonial period in Africa, an administrator who hoped to gain even a modicum of compliance from his subjects, however benign his project, was forced to recognize the importance of engaging the community in lengthy discussions. He was, furthermore, compelled to pay respect to local customs and to acknowledge the local point of view - unless, of course, he was prepared to attempt to force the people at the point of a gun. Should Africans today (either host or refugee) really be expected to accept a position with less power than they enjoyed under colonial rule? And after so many years of administrative experience can UNHCR really expect its field staff to do the job with even less consultation?
The relative success of the self-settled refugees in working out a modus vivendi with the local people testifies to the importance of promoting grassroots consultation. In interviews conducted at Panyume in 1984, refugees reported having been 'well received', and it was 'through the efforts of the chiefs and security forces that their safety had been guaranteed relative to Uganda and Zaire.' (Wilson 1985.)
In addition to providing information for refugees and locals, procedures for licensing vehicles, registering personal property, and issuing identification cards, should be introduced and implemented immediately. Rather than creating separate refugee offices which duplicate the functions of the local bureaucracy, would it not be more sensible to add specially trained staff to existing facilities so that the local government officers and the police could also acquire the skills and capacity to cope with the special problems that refugees present? If local officials were brought in as partners, the assistance programme could serve as an opportunity to increase general competence, to increase the sense of responsibility and of professionalism.
While medical care and food must be made available at the beginning of an assistance programme, it might be better if relief were given on the basis of individual needs which are expressed or identified by members of the local community. On many occasions during my fieldwork, Sudanese came to me to request help for particular refugees, and on more than one occasion chiefs acted as intermediaries on behalf of refugees who desperately needed food or medicine. Indigenous and refugee-based agencies are ideally placed to take a leading role in dispensing the necessary relief aid to those most in need, so long as their staff are closely connected to the population.
During the first years of the crisis in the south, the Sudan Council of Churches and the Catholic Church in Yei established an excellent record for assessing needs in co-operation with the Ugandans. SCC actually employed refugees in their programme from the start. Given adequate resources, they could have continued to develop a genuinely participatory programme which might have avoided some of the more serious problems which developed later on.
Unfortunately, much of the local initiative and genuine humanitarian feeling was discouraged by the arrival of the foreign 'experts' who took over the programme. By assuming the role of the superior 'advocate' for refugee interests, well-intentioned outsiders may quite unconsciously have nurtured the growing sense of alienation between the communities. As will be seen, by 1982-3, relations between local hosts and refugees in Yei River District had deteriorated to an extremely low and dangerous point.
When refugees first began arriving in Yei River District there was no guidance as to their rights and responsibilities. Some refugees were subject to arbitrary treatment and much of the property which would have sustained them through their early period of adjustment to the Sudan economy was lost. The failure to uphold the Sudanese law against the confiscation of property not only caused suffering, but encouraged bitterness towards their hosts in a refugee community powerless to seek redress. For example, police confiscated two cars belonging to one refugee, and he has the dubious pleasure of seeing one of these, sold to a Sudanese, driving about Yei.
The failures of an aid programme can even contribute to the breakdown of law and order. For example, after the scandal regarding the diversion of food aid which took place in Juba in 1981, noted in Chapter Two, local officials were particularly keen to avoid any suggestion that they were involved in such practices. They attempted to prevent refugees from selling their rations. This was always a source of conflict because refugees were forced by circumstances to sell food in exchange for necessary items which were not provided such as salt, soap, etc. But when World Food Programme's (WFP) supplies failed, it was sometimes necessary to give refugees extra amounts of one or another item in the food basket, precisely so they could sell in order to survive. As has been noted, the policemen were then asked to turn a blind eye when these items appeared in the market.
The failure to organize and supervise procedures for bringing vehicles into the country, and the failure to encourage special customs consideration for refugees, resulted in many better-off Ugandans being forced to sell their cars at ridiculously low prices. So many of these vehicles ended up in Khartoum that the government instituted special procedures to force the Sudanese profiteers to pay duty. Furthermore, farm production in the district is discouraged by the lack of transport. Ugandans could have used their vehicles to maintain themselves and this would have also benefited the economy of Yei River District.
Had identity cards been issued promptly, this would have reduced many problems for refugees. Official UNHCR policy (and the law of Sudan) stipulates that refugees must be provided with such identification. According to the Convention this is the government's duty but in the south, the repeated requests for this logistical help from UNHCR failed. Refugees did not have the 'tax receipt' all Sudanese men must carry for identification and the lack of a refugee identity card was the excuse for many incidents in which refugees were arrested, beaten or had their property confiscated. However, at the time I was in the Sudan the head of the UNHCR Khartoum office put the argument to me that refugees would be more likely to move freely without interference and to 'integrate' themselves within the community more quickly, if they were not supplied with special identification.
Perhaps the most useful investment for the physical security of refugees would have been to have paid their poll tax immediately. This would have provided all men over 21 years of age with a document which would have allowed them to move freely and which carried with it the symbolic sense that they belonged to the area. Moreover, through receiving this tax, the local government would Have also realised some immediate tangible benefit from the presence of refugees. How much money would have been involved in attempting such an experiment? Poll tax was set at £S6.000, or, at the then official exchange rate, US$ 4.58. If the percentages of men in settlements is a reliable guide to the overall proportions of those refugees who would have been liable to taxation, the total exercise would have cost no more than US$150,000 per annum.
For some who know such areas in Africa, this suggestion will immediately raise the question, 'Who would benefit?' Petty corruption among officials is characteristic of all impoverished societies and humanitarians everywhere assume the burden of imposing equity and preventing dishonesty. But corruption and the diversion of funds are by no means inevitable.
Some local officials demonstrate admirable concern for improving conditions in their areas, but are hampered by lack of funds. For example at Kajo-Kaji a project was undertaken to build a road to connect the area directly with Juba thus cutting by half the existing journey to the great benefit of the sub-district. The work was being done by communal labour and with only hand tools. The road connecting the town and Uganda border was also improved and one bridge was built near the town during my stay. In Yei, the town council could only afford to keep the electric power on for two hours each evening, but it was remarkably regular. The town had had a piped water system, but the pump was broken. The funds raised by collecting the poll tax from refugees in Yei town might have permitted them to replace the pump and to make clean water available to the entire community. As it was, even the hospital patients were forced to drink polluted water from Yei river.
But sceptics will continue to ask who would benefit from such an injection of capital into the district. In Yei River District, it appears that the balance of economic power is held by the northern Sudanese mercantile class while sub-chiefs, chiefs, police, and local government officials are recruited from among the southern Sudanese; and the leaders of the Sudan Socialist Union (the political party) are also southerners. While the traders make a very important contribution to the area by bringing in manufactured goods and other commodities to the market, the prices they pay to farmers are low and to a large extent they prevent local penetration of the market (McGregor in Wilson et al. 1985.) It is the southerners, the officials, who collect the tax. Even presuming that all poll tax were pocketed by individuals, which it most certainly would not be, the injection of even this small amount of cash into the district might have contributed to encouraging more, rather than less, economic equality!
There is no way in which outsiders can impose economic democracy. In the final analysis, power relations are the responsibility of the people at the grassroots. Before simply dismissing this statement as heresy, it should be noted that a great number of security problems arose between refugees and just such local officials.
There was, as far as I could discover, only a 'gentleman's agreement' that refugees should not pay poll tax for the first 'two years' in the country. Among the self-settled refugees, of the 2,947 households who answered the question, 28.8 per cent had paid tax to collectors who had, in lieu of cash, sometimes confiscated property far in excess of the poll tax levy. At one time, all the shops within Kala settlement were closed by the local authority because the owners had no business licences. All the rules and procedures for the enforcement of taxes and fees need to be discussed and formalised. In YRD, rules were neither explicit nor explained; the resulting repercussions on relations between refugees and locals were serious, not to mention the interruptions to the economic pursuits of the refugees.
Conditions in prison
Even prisons are 'refugee affected' institutions. Laying aside the fact that visits to prisons should be on the regular agenda of any refugee protection officer, it would not be outside the UNHCR mandate for assistance to be given to improve prison conditions for both locals and refugees. From the time of my arrival in 1982 there was a lack of information concerning refugees who might be in prison. When Goli settlement was opened, a group of refugees broke into the store and later, fourteen were rather arbitrarily selected for arrest. All escaped except for one, who was very ill in hospital at the time. Perhaps it was the ease with which these men escaped that discouraged serious humanitarian interest in the prisons.
At one time when we were in Kaya, the programme officer asked me to interview five refugees who were being held in prison. Their cell was no more than 2 x 2 metres. It had no window. Although the prisoners were allowed out of the cell to be interviewed, even when standing outside the police station's doorway, the stench was overwhelming. Besides Kaya and Yei, there were two other prisons that I know of in the district. One of these was located in KajoKaji, the other was near Morobo. These prisons were never visited. In addition, each 'A' and 'B' court had some kind of 'lock-up' attached to it.
When serious crimes were reported, there was a tendency for police to look for the nearest refugee to arrest. For example, in 1982 after a person was found murdered near Roronyo settlement, locals were all convinced that a refugee was responsible for the crime. In all, six refugees were arrested for this same crime. Appendix IV includes a statement written by a teacher from Limbe settlement who was unlucky enough to be riding to Roronyo after the murder. In it he describes his experiences and gives some other details about life in prison.
It was not until 22 August 1983, that a protection officer finally visited the prison in Yei. He was accompanied by the programme officer and a medical doctor. Before the visit UNHCR was only aware of three cases there, but they found 62 refugees, or 27 per cent of the total number of 227 prisoners. The conditions in prison were poor for all, but refugees suffered greater disadvantages. For example, Sudanese prisoners could rely on relatives for food to supplement the little provided, but refugees did not usually have access to such help. The report described two refugees who had recently died in prison as having succumbed to a 'condition of severe malnourishment and disease.' Medical care was not available, and those referred to the hospital were expected to pay for medicines. Refugees had neither access to funds nor to the means to inform UNHCR of their plight. Most prisoners, both Sudanese and refugees, had no blankets and no one who was interviewed was aware of the right to appeal against his sentence.
Even more serious, of the 62 refugee prisoners, 30 men were either on remand, had been charged but not tried, or had been tried but not sentenced. One of these unattended cases had been in prison for three years, another for two and a half years. Twelve refugee prisoners were serving sentences of between four and six months on charges of 'idleness'.
The health condition of several of the refugee prisoners was so poor that permission was sought to allow the Ugandan doctor to visit the prison regularly. This service was soon interrupted, however. Following a theft of medical supplies from GMT's stores, Yei policemen demonstrated a remarkable lack of bias in arresting the suspects: both the Ugandan and the expatriate doctor were arrested! Before the guilty person was found, the refugee doctor had suffered intimidation, his houses in Yei and Kaya were searched, and his personal property was confiscated. He understandably feared returning to the prison to treat the men and women there (there were 17 Sudanese women prisoners at the time). In September, 1983 two refugee prisoners were shot dead, both allegedly running away, but according to a medical report, one was shot in the chest.
As has been noted, the major cause of the insecurity of both hosts and refugees in Yei River District was neither the absence of protection officers, nor the failure of UNHCR to carry out its mandate to promote knowledge of the rights of refugees but rather the fact that since the beginning of 1982, incursions by the Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA) were a regular feature of life on the district's Sudan/Uganda border. Along this border of approximately 160 kilometres there were stationed, in 1982, only 224 Sudanese troops. At a base at Kajo-Kaji the Sudanese Army was represented by a major who commanded 100 troops; only three outposts, Kanjai, Litoba and Kerewa, were manned. On one occasion when an influx had been reported, I visited Kerewa. I found about 50 refugees - mainly women and children - guarded by three soldiers and I could only see one rifle. As Kerewa was inaccessible by road, the soldiers had either to walk or ride someone's bicycle back to Kajo-Kaji. The other army base at Kaya, was also headed by a major, who had 124 men under his command. He had soldiers posted at Lojulu and Morobo. When in October 1982, the commander of the army base at Yei finally decided to increase the numbers of soldiers stationed along the border, he had to borrow both lorries and fuel to transport his men to KajoKaji.
There are no doubt many reasons why the Khartoum government lacked the will to protect this border. Sudan and Uganda enjoy friendly diplomatic relations. Protecting the border would have risked a confrontation which neither side would have welcomed. Other parts of the south of the Sudan were severely affected by guerrilla warfare fought by opposition forces based in Ethiopia. In 1982 Equatorians showed no interest in joining this opposition, hence there was less need there than elsewhere for men to maintain security.
UNHCR files contain reports of dozens of incursions by the UNLA, but a few examples from the report of the Kajo-Kaji project manager illustrate the point.
But so long as the opposition forces in Uganda had been able to hold the military positions, shown on the sketch map, as of July 1982 (Fig. 1:1, page 48) the refugees (and locals) who were inside the Sudan were relatively secure from the Ugandan army (although even before July there were incidents when UNLA soldiers entered the Sudan, killing, wounding, looting and burning houses). As the UNLA pressed the fight to the borders, from May 1982 onwards it was not only the numbers of the refugees, but their wretched physical condition which defined the influx as an emergency. Although thousands were forced to move to the settlements, others tried to remain in the already congested border areas. Recognizing now that the resistance inside Uganda had collapsed and the presence of these refugees on the border would attract even more incursions by the UNLA, the first reaction of the local government was to ask UNHCR to speed up the movement of refugees piling up at the reception centres. But the UNHCR office at Yei was woefully under-equipped for a task of this magnitude; by October only three of its small fleet of lorries still functioned. More serious, information that there was an emergency did not reach Geneva until mid-July (and then not through official channels), and the first protection mission, a three-day visit, did not occur until late August 1982.
As the number of Sudanese suffering the results of incursions by the UNLA increased, the local officials became impatient with the slow response of UNHCR and in September 1982, issued refugees with an order to quit the entire border area between the Kaya river and Kajo- Kaji. Many locals interpreted this order to mean that their Ugandan neighbours, even those who had been there for up to three years, must abandon their crops and personal property as well. Thousands more poured into the reception centre at Mondikolo. With their crops still in the ground near the border, many refugees attempted to slip back to their vacated farms to collect crops. The road between Kunsuk and KajoKaji became unsafe as unauthorized individuals took the opportunity to assist officials in imposing the ruling to stay away from the border by robbing refugees and even raping women.
As a result of these disturbances, some two-thirds of the refugees registering for settlements from September to November were people who had formerly opted to remain on the border but who were now forced to relinquish their homesteads and move to the reception centres. Unlike the new arrivals from inside Uganda, these people were not suffering extreme levels of malnutrition and illness. This change in the composition of the new influx at reception centres had important consequences for the assistance programme.
The alarming condition of refugees who had been arriving in the settlement throughout the preceding months had prompted an increase in the numbers of medical workers from abroad. Normal delays in making such arrangements meant that medical officers arrived too late to have much effect upon the conditions of these people and some who arrived in September felt they had responded to a false alarm. In one case, the agency (OXFAM) began almost immediately to make arrangements to withdraw its emergency medical team. Fortunately, however, this arrangement was delayed, for a new crisis erupted in late December 1982.
If refugees are to be protected by the intervention of an emergency assistance programme, it is necessary to anticipate each new wave of arrivals. A great deal of money could be saved if long-range contingency plans were organized and supplies were ordered and shipped in advance. It might be thought that the nature of an emergency is such that it precludes anticipation, but this is not the case. Laying aside the predictability of the very first influx of Ugandans back in 1979, information was available which could have helped both the Sudan government and Geneva prepare for each group, and even to know the physical condition in which they were likely to arrive. It was unnecessary for UNCHR repeatedly to find itself unprepared for each new wave of refugees, but this occurred in March-April 1982, and again in May, September, and December. People continued to arrive in January 1983. In May-June of that same year thousands more registered for settlement. In 1984 thousands of the self- settled were disrupted and in December yet another influx from Uganda was reported. The information which would help ensure preparedness only requires someone - ideally the protection officer to spend time along the border. For example, on September 2 1982, I walked along the border near Yumbe with a young UN volunteer attached to the UNICEF office in Juba. We met a group of people in frightful physical condition making their way towards the Kaya reception centre some 15 kilometres away. I talked about them with a Ugandan already settled there.
He had been a teacher at Ladonga Teachers Training College, destroyed by early battles. He had fled into the bush, but then had made his way to Kampala where he was employed until 1981. Later, however, in fear of his life, he had once again taken to the bush. How long? He replied, 'This time for roughly one year and three months.' Still believing that refugees were better off in settlements, I asked him where he had spent the last nine months since he had entered the Sudan here on the border.
We discussed the estimates I had heard of the numbers still trapped inside Uganda. He believed there were more than 100,000 still in this disputed area of approximately 5,500 kilometres. There were people, he pointed out, all along the bank of the Nile, but particularly large concentrations at Obongi, some 94 kilometres from the Sudan border. 'They are already moving this way, trying to get refuge here in the Sudan.'
This teacher helped me interview the family resting beside the path. They had been walking from their last hiding place for a week. I asked what they had eaten and they replied. 'Berries, pawpaws and lemons.' They had met guerrillas on the way who had given them some groundnuts. As one theory was that these men tried to retain the civilians inside the country to provide them with food, l asked if the guerrillas knew they were coming to the Sudan. They reported that the guerrillas were encouraging the civilians to leave the area. They recalled the incident which had made them decide finally to move to the greater safety of the Sudan. The words are those of the teacher who translated the story.
The UN volunteer and I had to leave the family. There was no bridge over the stream which separated us from our vehicle. But we paid two Ugandans to ride us out of the area on their bicycles and now writing this I cannot for the life of me remember why we did not similarly 'charter' transport for those four individuals who could walk no further. The local people (who by then were mainly Ugandan) were feeding them; perhaps I had remembered that all of the food stock for the reception centre at Kaya had run out. Even if they had made that journey to overcrowded Kaya town, they might have been worse off for food than where they were.
As a result of similar interviews with refugees who straggled over the border during the following weeks, in October it was possible to estimate that the Sudan would receive 80,000 new arrivals whenever the UNLA launched its attack. It was already known that a military build-up was taking place within Uganda; as soon as dry weather set in so that the grass in which people hid would burn, it was obvious the battle would begin.
Just before Christmas 1982, the UNLA launched simultaneous attacks all over the West Nile. They entered the market at Obongi and began firing on civilians. A church service was interrupted and most of the worshippers, including the clergy, were killed. From Christmas Eve, the routes from Moyo to Yumbe, Yumbe to Obongi and Kulikulia, Uwanga to Rhino Camp, were blocked by the UNLA. The details of the atrocities reported by refugees arriving at a Kimbe reception centre suggest there is some substance in the argument that the UNLA was intending to carry out genocide against the people of this area.
From the other end of the border, at Kajo-Kaji, the programme officer found the results of similar violence inside Uganda.
Ironically, in view of the danger refugees represented to their security, in January 1983, local people along the border were still welcoming the new arrivals giving them land on which to build! It was no doubt the salvation of many, as UNHCR food stocks were by then depleted. During the last days of December 1982, reports indicate that 14,000 refugees registered for settlement at reception points along the border. Not only were there shortages of food, but also of medicines, tents, and blankets. The recently signed agreement with WFP was to supply food for only 36,000, so food had to be diverted away from the settlements to meet, at least partially, the demands of the new arrivals. OXFAM reported that in Mopoko settlement, the weekly ration was one kilogram of unground dura and half a cup of fish powder (supplied and flown in by the Norwegian government). While, according to OXFAM, children under five need a very minimum of 1,000 Kcal daily for survival, in this settlement children were receiving only 533 Kcal. The crisis was exacerbated by the onset of the dry season. Wells dug earlier during the rains were now drying up. A drilling rig was flown into Juba during November, but it was a very long time before it began operating because of a dispute, already noted, over who had the right to use it and whether the needs of local Sudanese should take priority.
The distressing saga of unpreparedness continues. In the early months of 1983 the rains failed in the area near the border. The fact that the self-settled refugees (and the Sudanese) would therefore suffer severe food shortages was not anticipated by UNHCR. The influx at the reception centres mushroomed. These included not only self- settled people whose food supplies had run out; thousands more entered from Zaire. Following a conspiracy between the UNLA and Zairois soldiers (about which information was available) people were given the choice either to return to Uganda or leave for the Sudan. And, of course, there was a constant trickle of new arrivals directly from Uganda. In June 1983, 11,000 registered for placement in settlements. Again, in 1984 and at the height of the farming season, when local food stocks were low, WFP supplies did not reach the area because of transport difficulties.
How did Ugandan refugees in these planned settlements survive the interruptions in the delivery of food? They had been transported to remote areas which were usually covered in forest or thick scrub bush and they were expected to build their houses quickly and begin farming.
The emergency programme not only failed to anticipate the arrival of new waves of refugees who would require extra assistance, but also each year WFP apparently forgot that rains would interfere with transporting food from Mombasa. During the height of the farming season in 1982, 1983, and again in 1984, all supplies from Mombasa were interrupted. As we shall see, the people were forced to sell everything they had, including their hoes, in exchange for food. As a result, most became dependent on leja leja - piecework for the locals - to maintain themselves.
WFP has no means of measuring the progress of refugees towards self-sufficiency; it simply bases its calculations on the time from which a settlement has been opened. The plan involves cutting rations by half after one season with subsequent reductions the following year. In Yei River District the policy was to cut off all food assistance after two years. I received a letter, dated 9 December 1982, from the Ugandan in charge of the agricultural programme and responsible for settlements achieving self-sufficiency. His letter conveys the dilemma in which he found himself and shows how interruptions in the supply of food to settlements forced refugees to neglect the very activity upon which they were expected to depend for self-sufficiency.
'I have been tied down preparing reports on Goli, Pakula, Kunsuk, Otogo, Mopoko, Roronyo, and Limuru, as WFP is hurrying to move the development ahead.' (All of these settlements were established in 1982.) 'Yet they had absolutely no time to approach food self- sufficiency.' Recall that when these people arrived in the new settlements, they first had to build their houses before they could begin clearing land for their farms. 'If my reports don t convince them, I will send you details of the progress, if any, on the above settlements.' Pakula settlement was opened on 29 June. His letter continues: 'I came from Pakula on 8 December 1982 and they had an absolutely empty food store for two weeks. The settlement is virtually empty as settlers are in search of food.
The agricultural officer concluded his letter with a sentence which reflects one of the effects of food insecurity on the refugees' ability to trust the agency which is primarily responsible for their protection: 'I hope a food weapon will not be used to eject back Ugandans.'
We have already seen how UNHCR handled the crisis in 1984 when the Sudan attempted to move the 40,000 refugees at risk in the Kajo- Kaji area. First, UNHCR opened only six new settlements. Then, according to the programme officer, in an attempt to stop forced removals of the self-settled, they systematically reduced assistance to those registering for settlement at the reception centre Mondikolo. Although, it had been planned to bring in contingency stocks for the numbers of people who might still be forced out of their homesteads, these supplies never arrived. In November 1984, when refugees were evicted from the Kaya area, again UNHCR was unable to cope with the crisis, having available stocks of food for less than 600 people for one month. Then in December 1984, despite all the interruptions in the delivery of food rations during all three of the previous growing seasons, fifteen settlements were deemed 'self-sufficient' and food aid was stopped.
The ring of insecurity
Some of the protection problems which arose in Kajo-Kaji suggest that the sudden flooding of an area with material assistance which was distributed without assessing the real needs of the refugees, contributed to many of the tensions which erupted. Individual personalities, of both refugees and locals, but perhaps especially officials and refugee leaders, are also a factor.
Up until August 1982 in the Kajo-Kaji sub-district there was only one settlement and it had been only irregularly assisted by UNHCR. Moreover, it was some 88 kilometres from the town. Local government officials had decided upon Mondikolo as the site for cattle owners, and Mogiri as the place for leprosy sufferers. Although earlier both had received some assistance, from 1981 the head of the Juba UNHCR office had refused to recognize these settlements; they were 'too close' to the border. Local people no doubt sympathized with those handicapped by leprosy as well as with their families, and the cattle-owners who had suffered such terrific cattle losses must have also been objects of pity. From time to time the programme officer at Yei had 'slipped' some material assistance to these settlements and SCC had taken the major responsibility for looking after the handicapped at Mogiri. But overall, the local people had no reason to be jealous of the refugees.
From mid-May 1982, as the numbers of new arrivals began to soar, those registering at the reception centres were given rations on a daily basis. The blankets issued, as was noted earlier, were whisked away from refugees as they were loaded onto lorries to leave the area. UNHCR had nothing else to distribute as all other supplies had also failed to arrive. But after the international media got hold of the story of the unattended emergency in Yei River District (which was immediately confirmed by the OXFAM field officer), Geneva sent a delegation to assess the scale of the problem. By mid-August an airlift had been mounted and supplies began to pour in. After that, the local Sudanese in the Kajo-Kaji area had the opportunity to observe a well-supplied assistance programme in full swing.
Following the September order for refugees settled along the border to move to settlements, the character of the population now registering in the Mondikolo reception centre changed. Earlier, the new arrivals comprised those who had remained in Uganda and who were in desperately poor physical condition. By September, however, most of those registering for settlement (who were taken to the nearby Kunsuk settlement until it was 'full') were those people who had previously established themselves as self-settled refugees along the border. Their farms had been so productive as to have swamped the local market and earlier the local government official had urged UNHCR to buy food from his area so as to stimulate greater production and avoid a fall in price. As many arrived with vehicles or other assets which they could turn into cash to start up their lives in the Sudan, some of these self-settled refugees had no doubt already achieved a higher standard of living than many local Sudanese. Now the self-settled refugees were ordered to quit their homesteads. Many were forced to leave unharvested crops in the ground.
Of course, such people who had been once more uprooted needed some assistance: for example, a tent for shelter, while building another house in Kunsuk. But had the right to free movement been upheld and some transport been available, the majority could no doubt have subsisted on the produce from their own fields which were not, after all, so very far away at the border. But the aid programme proceeded, following its standard plan of distribution, regardless of need.
Even refugees saw the dangers of their being singled out for assistance. At Kunsuk they suggested that UNHCR should give blankets to the locals who, having none, used fires in their houses to keep warm at night. An incident involving a conflict over the temporary use of a tractor owned by a local, Linus Kenny, illustrates the way in which the intervention of an outside agency with money and other resources can increase tensions.
The tractor, rented by UNHCR (no doubt at a higher price than could have been fetched locally), was placed in the hands of the Ugandan foreman of Mondikolo to transport building and other materials. Eye witness accounts detail the story.
The policeman had a problem. A car was broken down at Jalimo market and they asked the foreman of Mondikolo transit camp to lend the tractor. Francis Unzi, the foreman, refused on the grounds that the tractor was now under contract to UNHCR. The police said that they had written to the owner asking his permission and they asked to see the contract. It was not available. The owner of the tractor was brought into the case and he confirmed that both the tractor and the fuel in its tank were now the responsibility of the foreman and UNHCR. The police wanted the case to be discussed with UNHCR officials, but Yei was another 160 kilometres away.
Francis Unzi, as an employee of UNHCR, said that if the policemen seized the tractor they would be responsible to that office. At this provocation, 'Sgt. James ordered the soldiers [sic: probably policemen, but they were armed] to throw Francis in the cell. The soldiers grabbed Francis, tied or held his arms behind his back, took his papers, his money out of his pocket, hit him on his face, kicked him in the back and [he] was then taken to the cell.'
Another refugee added to the hostilities by accusing the police of 'violating human rights on an international level' and started to walk out of the station. 'Hot words followed and they (the policemen) followed him and told him that they would also throw him in jail. He left shortly.'
Three days later the owner of the tractor bailed Francis out by signing a promissory note for £S50. The police, who had taken a total of £S456 returned about half of this money when Francis was released, but he was charged and directed to 'show up in front of Judge Jalingua's 'A' Court. A medical report claims damage done by severe beating. Capt. of Police Daniel J. Ajal and all policemen were drunk.' (Arrest of Francis Unzi, 16 August 1982).
Once their patron was the UNHCR, not only Francis Unzi and his friend, Emanul Dumo, (who had pronounced on the human rights of refugees) but other refugees also gained a new confidence in their relations with local officials. Sabino Azzo, formerly in the Ugandan army who had been appointed an assistant district commissioner for Kampala by Amin, had, from 1980, managed to mobilize the people of Mondikolo settlement in a quite remarkable way. Although not assisted by UNHCR, the people had succeeded in getting a school started and had some self-help communal projects underway. Azzo had constructed the walls of a dry stone building for a clinic and an office. All it required for completion was some cement and roofing.
At one point all the members of the community had each contributed five piastres (1,000 piastres equal £S1) to finance a delegation from the settlement, led by Azzo, to walk through the bush (about 120 kilometres) to Juba to ask UNHCR for some assistance, mainly for medical supplies. On arrival they were promptly thrown out of both the UNHCR and the Sudan project management offices. Empty handed, they walked all the way back to Mondikolo.
Given his remarkable energy and demonstrated ability to organize people, when Kunsuk opened in August 1982, Sabino Azzo was asked to assume the job of foreman. His new status as a paid employee of UNHCR released even more of the creative energy of this unusual man, to the point where he also indulged in a few delusions concerning his position. At the first block leaders' meeting which I attended, his attitude had been transformed. He presented UNHCR with a list of demands which, to name only two, included a motorcycle for himself, and an ambulance for the settlement since there was no referral centre in the district and very little transport.
There was no evidence that he was dishonest, but he organized a new market and began collecting taxes from both refugees and locals for a welfare fund for the settlement. He even drew up a plan for a special bank for refugees, to be located in Geneva. He personally directed, from the first day he took up his position, the 'Kunsuk's Geneva Jazz Band'. He managed to get the people of Kunsuk to build three classrooms in a matter of only a couple of weeks. When a watchman was suspected of robbery, he organized a search party of Ugandans to recover the property from this Sudanese.
Charming and charismatic figure athough he was, not surprisingly, the chief and the local policemen up the road at Kajo-Kaji were incensed by his audacity. For example, he signed 'ADC Kampala' to one of his letters to the 'A' Commissioner, which was a complaint about the behaviour of the local people and their chief. Angered, the Commissioner demanded that UNHCR not only remove Azzo from his post as foreman, but that they transport him completely out of the sub-district. In the end, the programme officer was forced to comply.
It was decided to move Azzo to Tore settlement. He wrote a letter to UNHCR complaining about the injustice of it all.
After complaining about the arbitrary decision of the 'A' Commissioner in some detail, he pointed out how this abrupt transfer had forced him to 'uproot all the cassava and the other crops which I have planted early last year and early this year without compensation.' And he continues, 'Abrupt stoppage of my self-help projects ... Secret plans and plots of arrest on me' (19 October 1982). In another letter written three days later, Azzo asks for a transfer to another country.
Azzo lists his dependents which include 23 individuals, 9 adults (2 over 65 years of age and the others, children under sixteen). Still in the process of moving this large family, on 20 November 1982, Azzo travelled in a UNHCR lorry to Yei. At the halfway point, Kala settlement, police manned a roadblock, the lorry was stopped. According to the report, two policemen emerged armed with a whip and a rifle. Everyone was ordered out of the lorry, and the corporal cocked his gun. One courageous refugee, Dario Eberu, a resident of Kala, later travelled to Yei to report the incident.
Mr Azzo Sabino also gave a statement at the project manager's office in Yei.
Azzo continues by describing the beating and how the refugees cried out to him in Madi simply to surrender the money. The beating continued but Azzo resisted handing over his money. Finally, after being seriously throttled, he 'gave in, was afraid to be killed and gave the bag.' After some hours in the cell, someone from the settlement brought him food. 'The policeman who had beaten me woke me up. I was tired and I was resting. The pain in my throat was too much and I had difficulties in eating. I took mainly water.' Sabino Azzo's description of the next events before Eberu raised the alarm include being threatened with a knife and beaten again. After having dispersed the crowd that gathered, the other refugee was thrown into the cell with Sabino, he too was beaten. Around '23.00 hours' Azzo was taken at gunpoint to the main road and walked to the end of the settlement. According to Azzo's statement, the policemen asked him, 'Why do you want people to kill us, you made a lot of noise. The people could have killed us. Now, you say to us, what you want.'
On 22 September a report was sent to the Juba UNHCR office detailing this case and that of Francis Unzi, and it reminded the head of this office of two earlier cases. In August, Michael Otim, then employed as the family tracing officer for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), was injured. He was travelling with a convoy of lorries ferrying refugees from the Kaya reception centre. It began to rain and Otim had asked that two severely malnourished children be allowed to ride in the front of the lorry to protect them from the elements. A soldier, who had hitched a lift and was occupying a seat in the cab, objected to being asked to hold one of these children. He drew a knife and stabbed Otim just over his heart. The wound was 'superficial', only requiring stitches, but Otim was already traumatized. Some months earlier he had watched his parents being brutally murdered by knife at the hands of the UNLA. The report included another long-standing case involved Nasura Sultan, whose vehicle had been appropriated by a local businessman who refused to compensate him for its value.
Already in 1981, US$4.1 million had been made available for the reception and rehabilitation of Ugandan refugees returning home to the West Nile and the implementing partner, Lutheran World Service, had established its office in Arua. In 1983, the Yei office was instructed to distribute repatriation forms and the first group of 109 refugees were returned in mid-July. While no-one, certainly no Ugandan refugee, would ever argue that returning home in safety is not the best solution, the active mounting of the repatriation programme in Yei River District at a time when refugees were still pouring across the border and while battles continued within earshot of many settlements, served to introduce a new dimension of insecurity for refugees.
Pressure from within UNHCR to repatriate the Ugandans was also in fundamental contradiction to its policy to help them become self-sufficient within their own country of asylum. At the centre of this contradiction is the belief that material assistance is the propelling force which moves people. At a certain point, of course, the material conditions of life are determinants of people's decisions and it cannot be denied that many people did decide to accept repatriation because of the problems of survival in settlements. This is demonstrated in statements by people who joined the second official repatriation mission in September 1983. The speaker is a boy of 21 years who was on his own in the Sudan.
An elderly man gave his reasons for returning:
A young woman who was returning, unlike most others, had news of what she could expect back home:
The close of the period of anti-colonial wars was the occasion for UNHCR to achieve considerable success in repatriating large numbers of refugees back to their countries of origin. For example, after Algeria, refugees were returned to Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Angola, and Zimbabwe. In 1972, southern Sudanese also began to return home after the cease-fire. But at the very time refugees were being repatriated back to Uganda, following the overthrow of Idi Amin in 1979, thousands more were spilling out over its borders. Some would argue that it is still the aftermath of the colonial experience which lies at the root of mass exodus in Africa (el-Hassan 1984), but however one explains the causes, Africans have come to represent a very substantial proportion of the world's refugee population.
The expanding numbers of refugees in Africa are undoubtedly a major factor which has led some of the governments which fund UNHCR to promote repatriation as a 'solution', even where the government whose policies led to the exodus remains committed to them and where there is no reasonable guarantee that refugees may return in safety. Repatriation under these conditions began in Djibouti and became a test case for Africa. As Ambassador Douglas put it in his meeting with UNHCR staff in Khartoum in 1982, the office must look into the 'possibilities of encouraging repatriation after seeing the Djibouti experience.' [sic]
Repatriation represents a convergence of interests. Given the present levels of funding and the sheer pressure of numbers, host governments find it increasingly difficult to cope. For the countries of origin, the return of the refugees can serve to rehabilitate their tarnished international image. More to the point, the availability of funds for returnee programmes can help countries such as Uganda and Ethiopia 'stabilize' internal conditions. So long as funds are available to alleviate the economic causes of civil strife, no one should object. What is exceedingly objectionable is the charade which is being perpetrated by those who are involved in the so-called rehabilitation programmes for returnees. In Asmara, Ethiopia, for example, one Red Cross official told me that not one of the rehabilitation 'packages' were going to returnees. The only 'returnees' there had been back in Eritrea for five years. The aid which was being distributed under this programme was going to people on the basis of need. The reception centre at Asosa, built with funds from UNHCR for returnees from the Sudan, came to be used for Tigréy peoples by the Ethiopian government.
In order to attract funds to rehabilitate areas which have been depopulated, Uganda has also had to fabricate numbers (Crisp 1984.) It was claimed that by the end of June 1983, some 360,749 people had returned from Zaire and the Sudan. Although the UNHCR officer from Arua admitted to his colleague in Yei (as well as to my team which challenged the figures), that he was aware the figures were 'invented' by the Ugandan government, the statistics were printed on UNHCR stationery. Not only were the numbers of returnees invented, the statistics for the totals of the original population of each county from the 1980 census were also changed. On 3 September 1983, one refugee wrote the following letter to his fellow countryman, George Draduwe Madra, the District Commissioner, Moyo District.
The writer, obviously had some authority to speak to his colleague in Moyo. He had been agricultural officer for the district before the war and had also been responsible for the census in 1980.
Promoting certain repatriation programmes in Africa may be advantageous to some of the governments who fund UNHCR. For one thing, they have been accused of using aid as a means of promoting their own foreign interests vis-à-vis Ethiopia and Uganda (Crisp 1984.) But perhaps even more to the point, rehabilitation programmes for returnees are substantially less expensive than are assistance programmes and the period of foreseeable expenditure finite. In July 1983, the 109 returnees secured 44 hoes, 32 pangas, 94 blankets, 108 sets of plastic cups, bowls, plates and 30 plastic basins. As WFP supplies had not yet reached Uganda, one month's supply of food for each was brought along from Yei.
The stated policy of the implementing partner was to give the returnees food rations for only three months. When it was criticized as too short a time, the UNHCR official at Arua pointed out in a letter that although 90 days was the standard UN/WFP/government agreement in such cases, the contract could be 'extended or transformed into a quick action project'. And in a letter on 22 August 1983, he admitted that 'Nobody can expect returnees to be self-sufficient within three months.' But only a month later when he visited settlements in Yei River District to explain the programme and refugees asked him to report on the well-being of those first returnees who arrived in Arua in July, he answered that since his office was in Arua, he did not know where the returnees lived. One wonders how this official would know when, or if, a 'quick action project' was required.
The report of a repatriation mission to Uganda in December 1981 (as well as another which took a few Zairois back across the border) make scarcely credible reading: The return of Acholi refugees from Sudan to Uganda: 1-4 December.
The report, written by a UNHCR official from Kampala, continued by noting the expense of the operation: each returnee costing US$130, but '... were one to count only genuine cases, the cost per head would increase to well over US$200. This figure, of course, does not include the UNHCR expenditure in Juba, or 'unseen' overheads.' He pointed to other questionable aspects of the exercise. It appeared that most of even the 34 who actually arrived in Uganda, had either used the opportunity to return home for a holiday or were more preoccupied with the festivities (all enjoyed a roaring party at Nimule the night before crossing the border), or with the 'hand-outs'. His cynicism was supported by the fact that most of the men who accompanied the mission had left their families in Sudan. Sadly, while doubting the sincerity of most, he noted there were women and children who 'did seem to be "serious" cases.' He strongly criticized the 'wisdom of large hand-outs of food and money, which effectively comprise almost an "inducement to return".'
Should UNHCR involve itself at all in repatriation in circumstances where there is no guarantee that refugees are secure? Do refugees need to be transported back to their homes? Already in 1982 some Ugandans were 'testing the water' by sending individuals, usually women, back home to investigate how safe it was for all to return. In 1983, when I accompanied the repatriation mission, I met a number of refugees whom I had known the year before in Goli settlement. Again, most were women and children.
Refugees already had their own scheme for returning to their homes as soon as it was safe, and for using the food they had grown in the Sudan to sustain a few numbers of their household while they re-established fields in Uganda. As one woman explained to me, she would be back to the Sudan shortly because she had left unharvested crops in the field. Certainly the returnees' 'rehabilitation' would have been facilitated by some assistance, and one would not have been bothered to see them using these items as capital to get started again at home. But the way in which LWF was implementing the aid programme for returnees in Uganda did not insure that aid would reach those in need. The materials were being sold, apparently by the chiefs who were made responsible for distribution. The 'allegation' that aid was being sold was confirmed in July 1983, when we visited Ariwara market in Zaire. There we found literally mountains of the particular items which were supposed to be distributed in Uganda and this was reported to UNHCR.
The problem for the Ugandans was not that they needed to be induced to return, or even provided with transport. They had walked out, most could walk back again. The problem was that it was still not safe for most of them to return and even women and children were often at risk.
The UNHCR programme officer who had accompanied this mission to Gulu understandably proceeded with considerably more caution when he was asked in 1983 to promote the repatriation of refugees for whom he was responsible. In June, he first went to see the situation in the West Nile for himself. Since it was unsafe (and it remained so through the end of 1984) to travel directly to Arua through Kaya and Oraba, he travelled through Zaire and this gave him an opportunity to report on conditions there as well.
He found further evidence of the movement from the Sudan into Zaire for medical treatment because services were so poor in the Sudan. His report expressed the hope that Medecins Sans Frontières' arrival in the Sudan would reduce the number of people forced to go to Zaire for more adequate care. Still anticipating renewed and sudden influxes of refugees, he urged UNHCR to establish the 'absolutely indispensible' radio link between Aru, Zaire, Arua and Yei. He found the security situation in Zaire much more serious than in the Sudan. Family tracing services, as in the Sudan, were completely ineffective. Even after successful tracing, 'ICRC has no funds to make arrangements for family reunion and has to hand over the case to UNHCR. As stated by ICRC Aru, there has not been one case where UNHCR has been successful in bringing about a family reunion ... Field officers of ICRC never visited Sudan refugee settlements.' The ICRC suffered similar problems in southern Sudan. Concerning repatriation, from Zaire he was told 'about 200 refugees were repatriated under UNHCR auspices, some of those even came back because of difficulties to get enough food.' But he was informed that those who come from Terego, Maracha, and Arua town seem to enjoy 'fair' security conditions. Nevertheless at this time the Aru office had been instructed to freeze repatriation missions.
In Arua the programme officer met with the Archbishop (an Italian) who was convinced that all refugees should now return. He accused UNHCR and other agency personnel of keeping refugees in the Sudan and Zaire simply to retain their jobs. He argued that the situation in and around Arua was 'normal'. A similar discussion was held with the district commissioner who maintained that there were no problems in Terego and Maracha counties. Concerning the situation on the border where there was still active warfare, he said that 'the regional government is not willing to solve the problem.' Both the district commissioner and the Archbishop expressed concern that the refugees were not well looked after in the Sudan and that they did not have the right to free movement. The commissioner argued that it was the then Juba government, not Khartoum, which was against them. Ominously, concerning the problems which were to persist in southern Sudan, he said that Uganda would try to prevent Sudanese from seeking refuge in Uganda.
Discussions with another long-term resident expatriate in Arua suggested that while civilians might safely come back to 'lower' Terego, as far north as the village of Udupi, it should be remembered that it is not far from the first military post and that government troops disturb civilians when they are drunk. While he had no reports of killing, two girls had recently been 'taken' by soldiers.
The programme officer then left Arua and travelled north. He found the area of Yumbe and Koboko virtually empty, and that just south of Koboko town three civilians had been killed by soldiers. A priest reported to him that he could hear fighting every two or three days. Recent guerrilla attacks had succeeded in seizing a great deal of ammunition and weapons. At the Yumbe trading centre there were no civilians at all, everything had been destroyed. At the Yumbe hospital, he found about 350 civilians guarded by some 150 UNLA soldiers.
Other discussions with teachers and students in Arua assured him that at least some Ugandans could safely return, but informants were described as 'categorical' on the point that neither ex-soldiers nor members of the Kakwa community should risk returning.
The conclusion which was reached as a result of this mission was that the 29 who had already personally approached the office in Yei would be repatriated. And while the programme officer was convinced then that refugees from Maracha, Terego and Arua as well as southwards from the town could safely go home, he advised that refugees from Aringa, Koboko, and Madi should be informed about the risks.
He went on to emphasise that the situation in West Nile was more confused than his report might indicate. Given the success of the opposition forces, during the rainy season the 'frontline' could move south to Maracha and Terego. 'Repatriation should keep very low profile until the end of wet season.' Only then a better assessment of the situation can be made. Moreover, the Ugandan government 'should give well defined guarantees for the security of the returnees. This is because an amnesty law seems impossible now that Uganda moves closer and closer to a widespread civil war.'
Underlining the fact that there were likely to be yet more people fleeing Uganda, the report ended with a recommendation that UNHCR offices both at Juba and at Yei should 'have budget provision for food in case of serious food shortage. This becomes inevitable now that influx is still very high.' The report was dated 10 June 1983, but all food supplies from Mombasa ceased from mid-July that year until the third week of October when, and yet again, an expensive emergency air-lift had to be mounted.
In whose interest are repatriation programmes under such conditions? It is insufficient to explain the persistence of some individuals in promoting them simply in terms of the interests of governments - host, country of origin, or even those governments which support UNHCR. It would appear that once an office has been established and has a budget, such programmes acquire a momentum of their own which overcomes all logic. The evidence suggests that there are those who have a professional stake in the success of a rehabilitation programme are quite prepared to overlook or even to deny hard evidence of the dangers refugees will face if they return home. Others who, like that programme officer in Yei, practise caution, are likely to come in for severe criticism. But is it sufficient to account for the enthusiasm of the young men at Arua for repatriation simply in terms of the inertia of individuals caught up in a bureaucratic swirl?
I travelled with a repatriation mission in July 1983. In the little time we had, the programme officer and I carried out extensive interviews with former returnees, people in markets, farmers in compounds far from the road (we even attended a funeral where about two hundred Ugandans were congregated), shopkeepers, and priests, both expatriate and Ugandan. The evidence we collected certainly did not encourage us to believe that everyone who returned would be absolutely secure. It began with an incident on the border with a drunken, heavily armed soldier who tried to force everyone out of the lorry for inspection. The persuasiveness of the young assistant district commissioner (ADC) for Arua allowed us to pass unmolested. En route to the place where the returnees would sleep that night, the car I was in stopped at the airfield where the same ADC warned the commander not to allow any soldiers to come near the refugees and to make sure his 'notorious' ones were kept inside. He emphasized in this conversation how damaging it would be to 'public relations' if they were disturbed that night. Instead, the soldiers 'disturbed' the drivers who were sleeping at the office of the Red Cross, badly frightening them.
We met a refugee who had returned a few weeks earlier with a letter from the UNHCR office. After having to pay bribes three times at roadblocks in Zaire, she reported her arrival to the DC's office in Arua. After three days she started receiving visits from members of the Youth Wing and from soldiers. She showed us how people in the area just outside Arua had to live, hiding all valuables under their wood piles or burying them many metres from their houses. She reported a number of cases in which soldiers had looted her neighbours at night. Shortly after our trip, she also returned to Sudan.
We found the trading centre at Omogu closed. One man had attempted to re-open his shop, but had been visited by soldiers who knifed him after looting the shop. Up the road and after having walked about 3 kilometres into the bush, we met a tobacco assistant, (it was he who took us to the funeral). We found, in terms of health and clothing, that the people were in about the same condition as the refugees who registered at reception centres in the Sudan. From the tobacco assistant we learned of the murder - later confirmed by priests - only two days before our arrival of a tobacco manager who lived just outside Arua. 'Soldiers', said this man, 'come every few days. If there is nothing to loot, you are likely to be killed.'
We met returnees who had expected to be given a place in school, but who were prevented because they had not joined the UPC. We were advised by leaders of the religious communities not to bring people back in small groups like this, as they would be unlikely to survive. Refugees should either remain in the Sudan or come all at once in a group. We found also that returnees were fleeing yet again to the Sudan. In one case a teacher went to a sub-chief for assistance but he was accused of having 'reported his maladministration to UNHCR Arua.' Fearing for his life, he had fled back to the Sudan.
The 109 returnees we had accompanied were 'welcomed' by a group of UPC officials dressed up in party colours. The photographs which were supplied to UNHCR to help in checking on the safety of refugees were instead handed over to the district commissioner's office. In his report, the programme officer, referred to the 'isolation' of both the UNHCR and LWF officials (who had both hotly denied any security risk to the returnees) 'from the realities of the situation', which:
His report also pointed out that among the people interviewed 'there is no awareness of the presence of UNHCR. People think that such assistance as they do receive comes from the Red Cross.' He complained that all information available to UNHCR (and LWF) was filtered through government sources.
This report produced a series of angry protests from the Arua UNHCR official. In one of them he claimed that as far as the security situation in Uganda was concerned 'the rate of criminality prevailing [could] be compared with existing situations in other parts of the world.' In another he chided his colleague over the fact that his 'statement during the meeting gave me the impression that, for the time being, repatriation [sic] are made against your convictions, and in opposition to UNHCR policy.' (28 July 1983; emphasis added.) In mid-August he visited Yei and asked to be allowed to go to settlements to investigate for himself the attitudes of refugees towards repatriation. He declined to be accompanied by policemen, but later he must have regretted that decision. He was only narrowly saved by the quick thinking of John Issa, the foreman at Koya, from being stoned by angry refugees. Two reports written by refugee observers give some additional hints of the response of the refugees to his visit to Mopoko and Koya.
The UNHCR (ARUA) Representative's Visit to Mopoko on 14th August 1983
Brief Account of the UNHCR-Arua's Visit to Koya:
When the officer arrived on that day, he found the refugees already collecting their food ration for the week from the stores in the transit. When he introduced himself as the UNHCR-Arua, and stated he would like to know the opinion of the refugees about repatriation, I welcomed him to our local office and invited the block leaders and others around to hear from him what he would present to the refugees.
His first account of the situation in Uganda was that everything was improving and there were a lot of people in Arua town, as well as people of Maracha, Terego, Ayivu counties who were now going back to the villages. He had come to inform the refugees that they should now think of going back.
However, on the other hand. he did not recommend people from Koboko and Aringa counties to go back because the security situations in these areas were still bad. There were guerrillas there who had ambushed government forces and trucks. But then he said that the people who would like to be repatriated from these areas could be settled somewhere else instead of in Aringa and Koboko.
He expressed the hope that refugees would repatriate, because if they refused UNHCR would not know if the Ugandan government was violating the law which they had claimed is being followed. Therefore, UNHCR cannot come out to defend the refugees if they do not return and discover if Uganda is violating the law against repatriation.
The majority of the refugees who were in attendance showed a negative attitude towards the UNHCR officer. They had several short questions in response to the explanation of the officer.
The first feeling was that every refugee very much wanted to return to Uganda if the following conditions could be met by the Ugandan government and perhaps UNHCR.
1. If Uganda/Obote accepted to negotiate with the guerrillas on a possible solution to Uganda's war problems, they would be ready to return immediately. For to them, the misunderstanding between the opposing forces remains a Ugandan problem. Therefore, they called for negotiation between Obote. Ojok (the Army Chief of Staff) and Paul Muwanga, to get together with leaders of guerrilla forces in a neutral country to discuss their differences.
2. UNHCR-Arua was asked if he could tell the refugees the conditions of their colleagues who had recently repatriated and what news they had sent through him.
Answering this question, he said that he did not know anything about their condition because no-one had reported to him about them.
He was then asked why he did not carry out this task himself because he knew that he would be paying a visit to Koya and he could convey messages that might convince the others of the situation.
To this he answered by saying that he stayed in Arua and he did not know exactly where the returnees lived.
3. On freedom of speech, he was asked what would happen to one who returned and perhaps stood in a crowd and said that Obote and his government are causing problems to people in Uganda.
He answered by saying he would advise no one to do that because there are a lot of people who work for UPC but live in uncertainty.
4. On the question of Ugandan refugees in Luwero District in Uganda, who were still fleeing from Uganda. he answered that there are no refugees in Luwero but only displaced people who had begun to resettle.
However, at first the officer indicated that he did not know anything about such cases. He accepted that details were heard over the radio that a total of about 200,000 Ugandan refugees were reported suffering in the areas of Luwero, Mukono and Mbarara because of security problems.
5. On the question of why he was sent to talk to us and Obote or Muwanga did not come and talk to the refugees, he answered that he would take this message back, but for his own case, he had come because he works for refugees even in Uganda.
As he was about to leave Koya for other settlements, the last point he made was that he would advise a team of refugee representatives to go and visit West Nile so that they could give a correct picture of the area. The refugees replied that this might be a plan to ambush the representatives and kill them.
As the UNHCR official left, the atmosphere was tense with different exchanges of views about his visit. Many said that should there be attempts to repatriate refugees by force, they would prefer hiding in the bush and caring for themselves. There was some abuse hurled at the UNHCR representative:
1. 'You are stupid enough to have come to represent Obote in a different colour!'
2. 'Do not be silly to pretend to explain to us that you think you know better than we do!
3. 'Foolish white man has been bribed to come and engage us for his own work!'
4. 'If you think your stupid mother can care for us, take us to her rather than to Obote!'
In September 1983, another repatriation mission was organized for 144 people, mainly women and children. This time a protection officer was sent from Khartoum to accompany the group through Zaire to Arua. UNHCR Zaire was to send someone who would meet this group at Baze and escort them through the mazeway of police and military roadblocks in that country. (This arrangement was deemed necessary as in July on our return, heavily armed soldiers had tried to confiscate one of the three UNHCR lorries.) But there was another problem.
Yei was informed that the Ugandan government would not permit the refugees to be escorted across the border by any UNHCR officials. UNHCR suggested the Yei officer bring them as far as Aru and it would find some way to get them to Arua. The Sudanese project manager was asked to accompany the UNHCR protection officer, but he declined because as far as he knew, no official arrangements had been made with Kinshasa to guarantee safe passage through Zaire, to say nothing about the risk implied in leaving them before reaching Arua. He came to the residence where my team and I were working to explain what was happening. He said that unless his commissioner in Khartoum ordered him to go, he would refuse. 'UNHCR may be willing to play with people's lives. I am not.' The trip was put off but the refugees waiting in Yei transit camp were not officially informed why their return home was being delayed. When they did learn the reasons, 51 people changed their minds.
On 26 January 1984, another regional meeting was convened by UNHCR at Juba to discuss the repatriation of refugees from Zaire and the Sudan. At this meeting Uganda's policy was described as one of reconciliation despite the fact that no amnesty had been offered. The Ugandan authorities questioned whether Zaire and the Sudan governments were 'doing everything possible to facilitate the return of the refugees.' In fact, it was stated, the presence of the refugees may be an economic advantage to these governments leading them to prefer refugees to remain. While a very senior UNHCR official assured the Ugandans at the meeting that at least Sudan was not actively preventing refugees' repatriation, it was, he said, necessary to 'increase the protection function in the south, both in Yei and Juba, in order to monitor the situation more closely', but he had seen no evidence at any level of the Sudanese government wishing to keep refugees in the Sudan.
Again the discussions at this meeting centred around the belief that it is material assistance which determines where people want to live. Uganda complained that refugees were not returning because of the assistance they were receiving in asylum. UNHCR representatives noted that assistance was being phased out according to schedule, but conceded that there was a need for an improvement of the 'balance of assistance between Uganda and CA [country of asylum]'. It was also recommended that material assistance in Uganda should be increased and that 'Handouts in countries of asylum should be kept to a minimum...' Although it took place on Sudan territory, the Sudan government was not represented at this meeting, neither were the refugees themselves.
Ever since the repatriation programme had been mounted in southern Sudan, refugees had been demanding that a fact-finding mission of refugees be allowed to travel to Uganda to report back to their fellows on what they found. There was frequently the request for Ugandan officials to visit them in settlements to discuss the problem of their return. At this meeting in Juba, the question was raised once again. According to the report:
... The role of representatives of HCR is to inform colleagues in the country of origin (CO) of the desire of refugees to see the situation for themselves. If ... agree[d], it is the responsibility of authorities of the country of asylum (CA) to see that CO authorities guarantee safety ... should returnees wish to return to the CA to explain to refugees how things are in the CO, they will be treated as foreigners and must follow the normal visa procedures existing between the two countries.
Later on in 1984 when a group of people were sent on a fact-finding mission they included only those who had already signed forms indicating they were prepared to repatriate. Refugees were not convinced that they could report objectively and I received letters complaining about the bias built into UNHCR's response to their demand for an opportunity to make their own assessment of security.
Repatriation and the interests of the refugees
Is it really necessary for UNHCR to mount repatriation programmes? One of the resolutions arising from the International Symposium held in Oxford was that UNHCR should not make formal arrangements for repatriation without consulting refugees and unless there has been a major political change in the country of origin (see Appendix 1: para 6.2.)
It is possible to consult refugees concerning repatriation under less hostile conditions than existed in the Sudan. If they had been informed about the possible provisions for their return at the beginning of their life in exile, the sudden interest of UNHCR in mounting the programme in 1983 would not have come as such an unsettling experience. As it was, UNHCR, the very agency responsible for their protection, came to be regarded by them as a source of fear. When I attempted to carry out interviews among the self-settled refugees at Panyume, some of my team were threatened with bows and arrows. Refugees had seen me, they said, leaving the Sudan in July taking their countrymen to their death.
In the course of interviews in the settlements, the question was posed 'How do you see the future?' and if there was no response concerning their thoughts about Uganda, informants were prompted by the question 'Do you hope to return to Uganda in the near future?' Table 4.1 gives their responses as they were coded.
Assuming the answers reflected the attitudes of the entire household, in 1983 UNHCR could have expected a favourable response from nearly 4,000 people to their plans to repatriate Ugandans. Given the extreme feelings of at least a quarter of the people in the sample - those who do not intend to return until there is a change in government - it is obviously necessary to have an agency like UNHCR which can respond to those who do not share such strong feelings. For example, in one settlement a refugee slipped me a letter saying that as a supporter of the UPC, he wanted to return. He had been forced to flee simply because he was in the wrong place when war broke out. Had he made his views public, he was likely to have been regarded as a spy for Obote and a threat to the security of the others. He might even have lost his life at the hands of fellow Ugandans.
For those who anticipate no security in their own country, it is naive to believe that the non-availability of material aid on the other side of the border will keep refugees inside their own country. One government official who attended the International Symposium in Oxford called attention to this fallacy.
How many refugees actually need assistance to return to Uganda? Those who believe they face no dangers with officialdom and who know they will require material assistance, should have access to transport and help. That less than 300 people actually volunteered to return in 1983 suggests that only a few of those who intended to go back made use of the programme. It is not possible to know how many made their own way back home or how permanently they have established themselves in Uganda. Might it not be that refugees who self-repatriate have their own strategies for protecting themselves which might even be undermined by joining an official repatriation mission with all the publicity it would attract?
In April 1985, the following report was received from Yei River District: