On Aug. 17, Ugandans woke up to the news that the government had agreed to temporarily host about 2,000 Afghan refugees following a request from the U.S government.
Until then, many Ugandans had known about the long-running conflict in faraway Afghanistan. But few could have imagined their country somehow getting involved – albeit as a refuge of humanitarian assistance in the crisis.
Instead, when the Taliban fighters swiftly swept through the country and took over the capital, Kabul in the middle of August, thousands of Afghans immediately started scampering for their lives when President Ashraf Ghani left Afghanistan and was widely quoted saying he did so to avoid bloodshed.
Esther Davinia Anyakun, Uganda’s state minister for relief, disaster preparedness and refugees, broke the news that America had requested Uganda to host 2,000 of the fleeing Afghans.
She said President Yoweri Museveni had ordered her to make preparations to host 2,000 refugees from Afghanistan who would be brought in shifts of 500.
She revealed that the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) had secured the Imperial Group of hotels in Entebbe as a transit centre for the Afghans to arrive at and be screened. She said the Afghans are expected to stay in Uganda for at least three months before being relocated to a third country.
In the early morning of Aug.25, a chartered flight carrying 51 evacuees from Afghanistan touched down at the old airport in Entebbe. The Independent understands the flight was organised by an Afghan-American services company known as #Sayara_International.
The International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Uganda, an American humanitarian agency that has worked in Afghanistan for 30 years and in Uganda since 1998, received the Afghan evacuees and they will be helping them with accommodation, healthcare and general welfare services during their temporary stay in Uganda.
“The IRC is proud to be complementing the efforts of the Government of Uganda and US embassy to receive and support 51 Afghan evacuees that arrived in Uganda at 7.53am this morning,” Elijah Okeyo, the IRC Uganda Country Director said shortly after the Afghan evacuees’ arrival in Uganda.
“The evacuees from Afghanistan will stay temporarily in Uganda whilst in transit whilst applying for asylum to countries of resettlement such as the US.”
“Uganda has a long history and tradition of welcoming refugees from all over the world and is one of the world’s largest refugee hosting countries, with 1.5 million refugees mainly from South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The Foreign Affairs ministry said the evacuees who included men, women and children underwent the necessary security screening as well as the mandatory COVID-19 testing and the required quarantine procedures.
A statement from the American embassy in Kampala noted that as the largest bilateral supporter of refugees in Uganda and their Ugandan host communities, the United States appreciates the Ugandan people for their generosity and hospitality toward these communities.
“The Government of Uganda has once again demonstrated a willingness to play its part in matters of international concern. We commend its efforts and those of the local and international organizations in Uganda who are providing humanitarian support in partnership with the Government of Uganda for these evacuees from Afghanistan.”
“The United States appreciates the Government of Uganda’s offer to provide temporary assistance to Afghanistan evacuees and commends international organization representatives in Uganda for their partnership and for lending their expertise and support to Afghanistan evacuees,” the spokesperson of the US mission in Kampala told The Independent in an email.