The indigenous people of the contested Kyangwali refugee settlement have demanded for an independent investigation into their eviction, crimes against humanity and torture allegedly by officials from the Office of the Prime Minister.
The residents made the demand while meeting the Committee on Presidential Affairs during a fact-finding visit to the contested land in Hoima district. The MPs were in the area between October 5-7, 2018.
“Government efforts to better the lives of refugees has rendered us landless in our own country,” Said Issayana Peter, a father of six, who claims he owned 10 acres of land in the area on which he had a banana plantation, fruit trees and other food crops.
During the public hearing held at Kyangwali refugee camp headquarters, witnesses narrated gruesome acts of torture by the army and police allegedly aided by the Principal Settlement Officer, Bafaki Charles, who works with the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) and Lutaaya Vianey from Ministry of Lands.
“By the 1950s, I was not born when this refugee settlement was established; I also rely on documents available,” Bafaki responded while making his presentation to the Committee.
The locals rubbished the 2013 Oketta Report which recommended forceful eviction.
On 20 August 2013, over 60,000 residents were evicted by the army and police in Bukinda Parish to secure land for hosting Congolese refugees. The families later sued government, claiming to have lived with refugees since the 1960s when the refugee resettlement was started.
On 27 April 2015, Justice Simon Byabakama, who was the then Masindi Resident Judge, ordered the boundaries of the contested land to be resurveyed to ascertain whether the land claimed by the evicted families is within the resettlement scheme.
A joint survey report was submitted to court, which is yet to rule on the matter.
During the hearing of the case, some families were allowed back on the land.
“Currently we are being squeezed in one acre per family, forced to relocate and given no compensation for the development on our land. We pray that we follow the 1998 survey and life continues,” said the representative of Bukinda residents, Nestori Tumwesigye.
Sunday Matia, a resident of Bukinda village says the refugee settlement camp officials and the police came to his home one afternoon and directed him to leave in three days as his land had been allocated to a refugee family. Sunday, who is 39 years, blames government for reportedly grabbing his ancestral land.
Hon. Daniel Muheirwe (Buhaguzi County) who presented the petition to Parliament on 19 September 2018, said the land hosting Kyangwali refugee settlement was donated by the Bunyoro kingdom in 1950 to host Rwandan refugees.
“In 1998, government demarcated boundaries for the 91 square-km piece of land and the boundaries have been respected by the local communities. I wonder why government plans to extend the boundaries of Kyangwali refugee settlement by annexing 28 villages in Kasonga Parish,” said Muheirwe in his petition.
As a result, on 20 September 2018, Parliament directed the Office of the Prime Minister to immediately halt the proposed expansion of Kyangwali refugee settlement until the contested issues are resolved.
Parliament has tasked the Committee to assess the problem and report back to the House.
The Committee will also visit Bunyoro Kingdom authorities to ascertain the size and boundaries of the land, which was allocated to host Rwandese refugees in the 1950s.
Communities neighboring the refugee settlement are living in fear of eviction and have appealed to their leaders to intervene since some families have already been relocated.
The evicted people are from 31 villages in Kasonga parish.