The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has revealed that the Government has embarked on negotiations with the Government of Myanmar to ensure that Ugandans held by the rebel groups in the embattled nation are released.
The revelation was made by John Mulimba, Minister of State for Regional Affairs, during an interview at Parliament. The Minister was responding to concerns raised by Muwadda Nkunyingi (Kyadondo East), who had earlier alleged that over 450 Ugandans were lured into thinking they were going for employment in some Asian nations, only to end up being trafficked to Myanmar by the rebels.
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, Muwada noted last week.
In response to Muwada’s concerns, Mulimba said that the Government is engaging international organisations like the United Nations to see how these distressed Ugandans can be rescued and repatriated back home to safety.
The government has received the sad news of Ugandans, 30 in number, who are trapped in rebel-held territories in the centre of Myanmar. We are therefore trying to put heads together the Government of Uganda, under the auspice of the United Nations, with the Government ofMyanmar to see how we can come up with a rescue plan because the people who are holding our Ugandans are criminals, said Minister Mulimba.
The Minister also noted that during the Non-Aligned Movement summit that was held in Kampala, he held a bilateral meeting with his counterpart from Myanmar over the same issues. According to the Minister, Myanmar expressed deep sympathies to Ugandans being held by the rebels and that the hostages were in rebel-controlled territories and as the Government, they can not do much to rescue them.
Responding to questions on how some of these Ugandans ended up in a country in the midst of a war, Minister Mulimba attributed their fate to labour export companies that take Ugandans under the pretext that they are being taken to Malaysia for jobs, but upon reaching Malaysia, they fall in wrong hands and end up being trafficked to rebel-held territories.
Of course, they didn’t know where they were going at that time; their travel documents had been withdrawn, and they were very vulnerable, so they ended up in rebel-held territories. All labour export countries are aware of how to manage labour export, I think some of them are simply not conscious, they simply hurry for money and not put the welfare of the people they are exporting as labour in front, the Minister said.
The Minister, however, clarified that the official figure known to the Ministry as Ugandans abducted in Myanmar is 30, and they have only learnt of the 450 reportedly missing people from the presentation of the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, Muwada.
Of course, you know trafficking is an elite process, so people who end up in destinations through trafficking may not have the accurate numbers. It is also very difficult to communicate where they are because I am told that for a few that we have had, I think they stealthily picked phones and used WhatsApp, and it has been through relatives and other concerned parties that have been coming to us, we haven’t verified, so it is possible that they are more than 30 but there are no means of communication to verify what allegations, he clarified.
The Minister urged all Ugandans with missing loved ones abroad to continue reporting to Interpol, which will bring this information to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with 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 realise 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, remarked Mulimba.
The development comes weeks after several Ugandans took to social media to expose the gruesome working conditions facing Ugandans in some of the Asian countries where they were taken by external labour recruitment agencies.