Kampala, Uganda | By Michael Wandati | The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has confirmed that at least 30 Ugandans have been trafficked and recruited as rebel fighters in the ongoing Myanmar People’s Defense War.
The Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, John Mulimba, revealed that traffickers lure desperate Ugandans through fictitious websites, advertising “high-paying jobs” in Thailand and Malaysia.
Upon responding to online advertisements, victims embark on journeys either by air or boats via the ports of Mombasa. Traffickers receive them at designated locations and transfer them to Myanmar, specifically to rebel-controlled areas.
This information was disclosed in response to a petition by lawmakers Mr. Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda (Kira Municipality) and Mr. Muwada Nkunyingi (Kyadondo East), who raised concerns about the fate of over 450 Ugandans in Egypt, the Middle East, and Asia.
“I have received credible information and numerous correspondences and victims that suggest that hundreds of Ugandan nationals, by my counting estimated at 450 Ugandans, are being held as hostages in Myanmar by alleged rebel groups. Most of these victims had travelled for work. We don’t know who took them, whether it was Government or private groups,” Mr. Muwada noted.
Since the military coup on February 1, 2021, in Myanmar, the political situation has remained tense, with over 30 active rebel movements reported. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs identified 30 Ugandans held hostage in rebel territories, with 16 in the Bailo compound – Kayin State, and 14 in the UK compound.
The government has engaged in bilateral meetings with Myanmar officials to establish a cooperation framework in immigration and anti-human trafficking.
“I held bilateral meetings on 16th January and 24th with H.E. Deputy Prime Minister and Union Minister of Foreign Affairs of Myanmar and this matter was extensively discussed. It was agreed that Uganda and Myanmar establish bilateral relations and create cooperation frameworks in immigration and human traffic among others. The Myanmar Foreign minister also undertook to waive any fines and criminal cases that would have been preferred against those Ugandans,” said Mulimba.
“So we regret having Ugandans held under rebel-held territories, but we are doing what it takes bi-laterally with the Government of Myanmar because you realize it is a world apart; Ugandans in Myanmar are very far away so we have to engage international agencies to see that we rescue Ugandans,” added Mulimba.
Most trafficked Ugandans are well-trained youth, particularly IT graduates. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is assisting the Ugandan government in engaging with Myanmar counterparts to secure their release.
Uganda’s Prime Minister, Robinah Nabbanja, revealed financial constraints hindering the implementation of plans to secure the release of the affected Ugandans.
“And the people they were taking to Myanmar most of them are youth who are well trained, IT professionals or IT graduates. However, the International Organisation for Immigration has promised that they are going to help us get in touch with the government of Myanmar and see how our youth can be rescued because they have rescued some [already],” said Nabbanja.
The Ugandan Ambassador in Kuala Lumpur requested funds for travel to Myanmar to engage relevant authorities, but the required 102 million Shillings have not been availed.
Additionally, there are concerns about Ugandans in Egypt, where approximately 60 individuals are in need of evacuation. The Egyptian authorities in September 2023, issued a three-month grace period until March 15, 2024, for foreigners to regularize their stay by December 2023 or leave. Failure to do so may result in charges, imprisonment, or substantial fines.
To regularize their stay, each illegal migrant is required to secure an Egyptian host and pay about Shs 3.8 million as an administrative fee that would cover all fines for overstaying and costs for processing a resident permit. Consequently, Ugandans who are unable to legalize their stay will end up being charged for illegal stay, jailed, or be made to pay huge fines ranging between Shs 60 million and Shs 126 million.
In a related development, the Uganda High Commission in New Delhi, India, has reported that 200 Ugandan women, victims of human trafficking, are unable to return home due to a lack of funds for air tickets. These individuals were trafficked under false pretenses of non-existent jobs.
According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the mission does not have adequate space to accommodate them.
The government is yet to determine the required funding for the evacuation of Ugandans in Myanmar, Egypt, India, and other locations worldwide.