Why is Uganda Taking Afghan Refugees?

Uganda has agreed to host 2,000 Afghan refugees at the United States’ request. On August 2021, the Taliban overran Afghanistan at an unprecedented rate, catching intelligence agencies, the Afghan government, and Afghans at a surprise. No one thought the group would ever return to power, and even those who saw the possibility anticipated years to come. Taliban’s takeover forced thousands to flock at Hamid Karzai International Airport, hoping to catch a flight and leave the country.

The U.S. and its allies are directly involved in the evacuation efforts, transporting fleeing Afghans into different countries and military bases, waiting for visa approvals. The U.S. government requested multiple countries, including Uganda, to provide a temporary stay to Afghan refugees. Uganda has already received 51 evacuees, and more are expected to arrive in the country. https://www.voanews.com/africa/51-afghan-evacuees-arrive-uganda-more-expected. But why is Uganda taking Afghan Refugees?

On many occasions, President Yoweri Museveni has demonstrated his dissatisfaction with the West, especially the U.S and the U.K. He has publicly criticized the West for “forcing” same-sex marriage on African countries without regard to their cultural values. President Museveni is angered by how international aid comes with terms and conditions, including legalizing same-sex marriages. Following past outbursts and displeasure toward the West, it is a surprise that Museveni is accepting the U.S’s request to take refugees.

In 2014, countries like the U.S., Norway, and Denmark reviewed and cut aid to Uganda after the president passed anti-gay law. https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2014/feb/25/uganda-donors-cut-aid-anti-gay-law. The law undermined the relationship between Uganda and those countries, and President Museveni may be using the Afghan refugees to rectify the situation. The move will likely encourage those who had cut aid to start sending funds again. Uganda has humanitarian reasons to welcome Afghans, as demonstrated by hosting the largest refugee population in Africa, mainly from South Sudan and Congo. However, the need to remedy international relations has played a part in taking Afghan evacuees.

President Museveni has ruled Uganda with an iron fist, deploying military, police, and intelligence agencies to silence critics and opponents. During the 2021 presidential elections, Uganda’s army and the police killed at least 50 opposition candidate supporters. Museveni’s primary opponent, Bobi Wine, was put on house arrest while his allies and campaign strategists were randomly arrested, some never to be found alive. Uganda’s armed forces arrest, torture, or kill those who strongly oppose Museveni. Politicians, presidents, and activists worldwide have condemned Museveni for his brutal and oppressive rule. Uganda’s decision to take Afghan refugees is a strategy to make other countries, especially the U.S., turn a blind eye to Museveni’s atrocities. The Afghan evacuees are collateral. You criticize or sanction Museveni; you take the refugees.

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