Printer-friendly versionSend by emailPDF version

Deportations to and from Uganda encompass a largely unreported world of human rights abuses, writes Bernadette Iyodu. Those returning are commonly immediately regarded as a threat as potential political dissidents, while those deported from Uganda face a murky world of debilitating bureaucracy and detention.

The act of deportation does not occur in a vacuum but is rather inextricably linked to the wider policies, practices and trends of the asylum process. A thorough understanding of deportation thus encompasses asylum-determination procedures, access to legal representation, the adequacy of detention facilities and the use of detention during appeal, the use of force during deportation, and the security of deportees upon their return and removal. Within these various stages of the process, the potential human rights implications include torture, both physical and psychological, family disruptions, trauma, loss of livelihood and stigma, all of which violate the dignity and rights of the persons concerned.

The recent trend reveals that the number of asylum claims in industrialised countries has steadily decreased while the rate of deportation of failed asylum seekers nevertheless continues to increase.[1] Almost all countries as sovereign entities legally reserve the right to deport illegal immigrants, but international law imposes several restrictions to this general rule, such as the principle of non-refoulement and the restrictions under the Convention against Torture.[2] Amidst a 'global war on terror' and rising xenophobia however, states are increasingly abusing these restrictions in the name of national security.


Once reaching Uganda, the outlook for deportees is grim at best. The Refugee Law Project has heard first-hand accounts of thes e experiences from deportees. One woman, having been repeatedly tortured and raped in Uganda, fled to the UK but was subsequently deported back. Upon her return, she was immediately taken to prison where she languished for nine months until a relative was able to bribe a guard. Another Ugandan deported from the UK was immediately detained for two weeks and then brought to the Head of Military Intelligence (CMI) and charged with various sham offences. She was finally acquitted one year later because no evidence was ever produced relating to these purported charges.

Currently, most deportees come from the UK, and the UK considers deportations to Uganda safe and legal due to assurances offered by President Yoweri Museveni.[3] However, the personal accounts relayed to our office match a general pattern documented by experts and journalists:

'A failed asylum seeker, with a deportation certificate, arrives at Entebbe airport and is handed over to one of the security organisations. If suspected of political dissident activities, the person is taken to a safehouse for questioning. Rape, for women, is inevitable. Children over the age of three are taken from their mother and put in an orphanage. Detention can last weeks, or months; a number of people have "disappeared" from custody.'[ ]

In many instances, political ideology need not be the instigator for the mistreatment as people who have claimed asylum in the West are immediately regarded as a threat and are automatic targets. In the face of this evidence, the UK and other countries maintain a stance of wilful ignorance and continue to accept Museveni’s 'assurances' as sufficient.


Persons entering Uganda without proper documentation are at first instance arrested and detained as illegal or prohibited immigrants.[5] Certain nationalities such as Rwandese and persons from Arab and Islamist States like Somalia and Iran are immediately regarded as security threats to the country by security agents and the immigration office and thus denied the right to seek asylum. Once arrested, the police and immigration are quick to have the suspect arraigned in court and charged for violating immigration laws, thus warranting a deportation. Regard is not had to the refugee laws in the country. All ‘illegal’ immigrants’ cases are taken by immigration or police officers for trial in the magistrates courts all over the country. Once court is informed that an application for a deportation has already been made, the court directs that the person be detained in custody for any period not exceeding 14 days.[6] The deportation is signed by the minister of internal affairs and it is the same minister who has the power to vary or revoke the deportation order by a further order in writing.

In a recent case an Iranian who was due for deportation was arraigned in a Magistrates Court Grade I wherein he was found to be in violation of Uganda’s immigration laws for entering Uganda with forged travel documents. In the judgment he was ordered to pay a fine of 25 currency points (i.e., USh 500,000, the equivalent of US$250) or in the alternative serve a jail sentence of nine months, and additionally he was ordered to leave the country to his next destination within a period of two weeks upon paying the fine or getting released from prison. The accused paid the fine but could not leave the country within the specified time as he was re-arrested and detained by immigration again only a day after his release. He also could not leave the country because he had nowhere else to go and wanted to seek asylum in Uganda. His plea for asylum was not heard by immigration as a deportation order was already issued.

Upon the RLP’s (Refugee Law Project) intervention, an appeal was made to the minister of internal affairs to revoke the deportation order. This appeal was copied to various offices and agencies including the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), the Office of the Prime Minister – Directorate of Refugees, Amnesty International, the Uganda Human Rights Commission and the commissioner legal & inspections, immigration. The commissioner legal & inspections had already made up her mind, based exclusively on information collected by state security agents that the accused ought to be deported without further ado. It should be noted that it is the commissioner legal & inspections who drafts the deportation orders based on information received from state security agents and forwards the same for signing to the minister for internal affairs for signature.

Securing appointments to see the minister was close to impossible. As a result, the RLP decided to engage the Uganda Human Rights Commission to help securing appointments and engage the minister in a discussion over the appeal and to revoke the order. Relying on the magistrate’s court judgment, the Chairperson of the Uganda Human Rights Commission implored the minister to release or charge the suspect with fresh charges instead. Discussions were also held with the permanent secretary (PS). It took another third party who knew the first premier minister to involve him as well. A report from the chairperson was to the effect that neither the PS nor the minister of internal affairs was committed to releasing the accused because he was marked as a security risk to the country. Thus his release was pegged to a condition that the UNHCR make a written undertaking to grant him mandate status and resettle him in the near future as he is not wanted in the country.

The RLP met up with the UNHCR, who were cooperative and in a week’s time made the undertaking upon which the accused was released. The UNHCR stated that his resettlement could be procured in six months at the earliest, and/or at the latest one year. Currently, he has been officially recognised by the Office of the Prime Minister – Directorate of Refugees as an asylum seeker. The UNHCR wanted to relocate him to the camp. The RLP felt that it was too soon as he needed psychosocial assistance. Despite the fact that the Jesuit Refugee Services have agreed to accommodate him in Kampala for a period of three months so as to allow him get through his private counselling sessions with the RLP’s psychosocial unit, he has been sent to a camp.

It is illegal and unacceptable that the security of deportees is dependent on whether they are lucky enough to be taken into custody by a guard willing to accept bribes. The Home Office in the UK reported that in 2006 it deported 200 persons back to Uganda,[7] and this number represents only a fraction of the total. One immigration official unofficially estimated the figure as over 600 for the year, which itself is a conservative estimate due to the number of undocumented flights that arrive at night. The systems of diplomatic assurances and post-return monitoring mechanisms have failed.[8] The countries deporting these persons have violated their international legal obligations. These individuals deserve security and protection upon their arrival and return, access to legal representation and the support of an independent monitoring body committed to discovering the truth.

There is presently no organisation providing legal aid and psychosocial counselling to failed asylum seekers who are deported to and from Uganda apart from the RLP. The RLP started representing deportees in 2006 and it is difficult to estimate how many deportation cases have gone by unnoticed before the RLP started taking up deportation cases. Even with the RLP providing legal and psychosocial assistance to deportees, there are still many cases that come in on night flights and removals conducted in the wee hours of the night that have still gone by unnoticed. Despite the numbers of persons who have been wrongfully returned and removed to and from Uganda and elsewhere in the world without a chance of being heard and based on ‘diplomatic assurances’, the practice of deportation has not received the national, regional and international attention it deserves to curb it.


* Bernadette Iyodu is the senior legal officer and the deportation and human trafficking programme coordinator of the Refugee Law Project, Faculty of Law, Makerere University.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.


[1] In the UK, the number of asylum applications has decreased by 72 per cent since its peak in 2002 at a steady rate from 84,130 in 2002, 49,405 in 2003, 33,960 in 2004, 25,710 in 2005, to 23,610 in 2006. In the same period, the number granted asylum or appeal allowed has also steadily decreased from 45,125 in 2002, 27,920 in 2003, 17,135 in 2004, 11,030 in 2005, to 8,035 in 2006, while the number of removals and voluntary departures increased from 10,740 in 2002, 13,005 in 2003, 12,595 in 2004, 13,730 in 2005, to 16,330 in 2006. Home Office Statistical Bulletin, Asylum Statistics United Kingdom 2006, at
[2] Article 3 of the Convention against Torture ('No State Party shall expel, return ('refouler') or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.')
[3] See
[4] Caroline Moorhead, 'The End of All Hope', The Guardian, August 23, 2006. This pattern repeats itself in numerous countries; for examples of similar accounts in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Burma c and Azerbaijan, see Liz Fekete, 'The Deportation Machine: Europe, asylum, and human rights', The Institute of Race Relations (2005).
[5] Uganda Immigration Act Chapter 63, Laws of Uganda – see section 10 (g). Section 10 also provides for various categories of prohibited immigrants.
[6] Immigration Act section 17(4).
[7] The UK officially reported 205 removals: 200 to Uganda and 5 to a non-EU state or to an unknown destination. Note that this is the figure for principal asylum applicants and does not include dependants (for which no official figure is reported), but for a rough approximation, in 2006, dependants made up 14.5 per cent of the total number of Ugandan applicants. This figure also encompasses assisted voluntary returns and voluntary departures. Home Office Statistical Bulletin, Asylum Statistics United Kingdom 2006, at
[8] For more detailed analysis on the constraints and failings of these systems, see Human Rights Watch, 'Still at Risk: Diplomatic Assurances No Safeguard Against Torture', April 2005, particularly p. 24 The Limits of Post-Return Monitoring.