Returnee: 60 Rwandans languish in Ugandan jail

Dismas Tuyishimire during an interview on Sunday. / Eugène Kwibuka

A Rwandan who was on Friday deported by the Ugandan police has said that he has left 60 other Rwandans in the Ugandan prison of Ndorwa in Kabale, Western Uganda.

Dismas Tuyishimire, 26, is from Gicumbi District’s Mutete Sector in Northern Province and was illegally detained for slightly over one year in the Ugandan prison.

He had gone to the neighbouring country to work in a construction firm.

During an interview with the media in Kigali on Sunday, he said that the dozens of Rwandans he has left in the Ugandan jail where he had been detained are living as slaves.

“They mostly do forced labour in order to pay for different fines they have been required to pay after being falsely accused of different crimes,” he said.

Tuyishimire went to Uganda in June last year when a prospective employer invited him to work in Kisoro, Western Uganda.

Little did he know that he would end up in jail on false charges of illegal entry into the country as well as espionage.

Six days after working for the Ugandan employer in Kisoro, men dressed in civilian attire interrogated him and other Rwandan workers, wondering why they spoke Kinyarwanda and where they were from.

Ten minutes after the interview, Tuyishimire said, Ugandan police picked him up and two other Rwandans and took them to a police station in Kisoro.

“After spending three hours at the police station, we were interviewed again and then sent to another jail where we spent three days before being taken to another common jail near Kisoro trading centre,” he said.

At the general prison in Kisoro, their Ugandan boss in the construction industry, identified as Enock Byamukama, was also summoned by the police to explain why he employs Rwandans but he was let free.

After spending three months in the Kisoro jail, Tuyishimire and his two other Rwandan fellow workers were brought to court and sentenced to one year in prison for illegal entry into the country despite having shown their Rwandan identity cards and border passes issued by immigration officials they used to cross into Uganda.

They were also accused of espionage against the State of Uganda, an accusation that also caught Tuyishimire by surprise.

“The judge told us that we are accused of a serious crime and sentenced us to a one year period in jail,” he said in the interview.

After being sentenced, Tuyishimire and his fellow Rwandans were brought to Ndorwa Prison in Kabale, Western Uganda, where he spent one year in both imprisonment and forced labour.

“Life in prison is hell for Rwandans. Those who can’t find money to pay the additional fines required for the jailed people are subjected to forced labour such as farming, making bricks, or transporting things like trees on the head,” he said.

He said that in his case he had to do forced labour in order to pay a fine of one and a half million Ugandan Shillings.

“It was about Rwf300,000 and I didn’t have the money and was subjected to forced labour,” he said.

Tuyishimire warned fellow Rwandans against travelling to Uganda because it’s dangerous for them.

“Whoever has plans to go to Uganda should drop them. There is no peace for Rwandans in Uganda,” he said.

In March, the Rwandan government issued an advisory against travel to Uganda, saying that hundreds of Rwandan citizens had been arrested and were languishing in mostly un-known detention centres in Uganda.

The travel advisory still stands and most of Rwandans who have been deported from Uganda have testified how they were picked up from public buses, homes, or churches, by mostly armed security agents only to be detained for months without trial and with no access to consular services.

Kigali also accuses Kampala of hosting and facilitating elements and armed groups seeking to destabilise Rwanda, a charge the latter denies.

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