Government has started issuing passports to refugees living in Uganda to ease their movement to other countries.
According to Hillary Onek, the Minister of Relief and Disaster Preparedness, the move will enable legal refugees to seek study, business and medical opportunities abroad.
It is also designed as a security measure as well as a strategy to determine the number of refugees currently in the country.
The new conventional travel document also known as a refugee passport is an upgraded UN Document that was launched in the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) in Kampala on Thursday.
Leon Nzanywayo from Democratic Republic of Congo, Emmanuel Rwabusaza from Rwanda, Almazhale Tesfamcad from Eritrea and Hassan Warsame from Somalia, who are due to travel for various engagements including study, medical treatment, visits and for business, received the first four travel documents at the launch.
Unlike the old conventional travel document which was simply hand written, the new one is machine readable and will be printed out by the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
While presenting its design and security features to ministers and dignitaries from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), Herric Pat Cheborion the passport controller, Immigration said the refugee passport contains secure watermarked paper, intaglio printing (as used on bank notes) giving tactility and the ability to create a latent image and invisible ultra violet design only visible using UV light.
Its other features include, user definable screen reading Republic of Uganda, rainbow printing and anti-copy guilloche design.
Cheborion said the security features will prevent the forgery of documents.
“Refugees who contribute to the economy through generating wealth should be able to travel freely out of Uganda without being locked in one place,” Onek said.
He added that it is good practice to have a data bank for refugees coming into the country and that the information gathered will be stored in the government data bank.
James Baba the state minister for Internal Affairs pledged to work with the Office of the Prime Minister saying who ever qualifies for the document shall first be confirmed by OPM.
He said in the recent national ID exercise where they were able to register 15.5million Ugandan citizens; they also compiled data of all refugees to be able to synchronize data.
Baba however urged refugees to honour and use the travel document in the most responsible way.
“This is not your property. It will simply help you travel. If you abuse or misuse the document, it will be cancelled,” he said.
The new document is fully UNHCR compliant and based on their published guidelines. It is also in line with ICAO regulations for international travel documents.
Explaining its validity, Cheborion said it is like the normal passport and is valid for 10 years as long as the refugee status still holds. He said getting a refugee passport will cost just the same as getting a normal passport.
Cheborion said its restrictions are to one’s country of origin or the factors that drove one to leave their country of origin. The passports will be valid by the OPM Refugee eligibility committee.
Alexander Aleinikoff, The deputy High Commissioner UNHCR commended Uganda for extending the freedom refugees are enjoying within the country to other countries.
Uganda is the fifth in Africa to issue machine readable passports for refugees. The other countries include South Africa, Tanzania, Benin and Mozambique.