Two Rwandans, a man and a mother, on Thursday told journalists the horrendous ordeal they have been through for months before they were dumped by Ugandan authorities on the border recently.
Junior Nyirakarangwa, a 29-year-old mother, returned home with her baby but has no idea where her husband is.
She said she left Rwanda in January 2018. At the time, a relative told her that she could get a job in Uganda.
She and her husband stayed in western Uganda odd jobs in western Uganda. They even had a child and were happy. Until all hell broke loose.
In November last year, Ugandan police officers and military suddenly showed up at their house late at night, banged at the door and roughed the family out.
The husband was kicked while naked.
When they showed their papers and the soldiers noticed their Rwandan IDs, and “said these are the Rwandans spies.”
The couple and their baby were bundled into a pickup truck along with many other people, mostly Rwandans rounded up under similar circumstances.
They were packed in a bigger, “and very dirty lorry” and taken to prison.
“I spent a whole month without being given food by prison authorities. We only got a little food when fellow inmates who are Ugandans were visited and given food by relatives and would share with us. Otherwise, prison authorities told us there was no food for Rwandans.”
Later, after a month, they were taken to court and charged. Their crime, as they came to learn was that they were Rwandans and staying in Uganda illegally.
The men were taken to a different prison. She has not seen her husband since then.
Early last December, they were released and dumped at the Cyanika border crossing where they were received by Rwandan authorities.
Three of our colleagues died
Fabien Ntirenganya, 48, was also released on the same day with Nyirakarangwa.
The father of seven had been going to Uganda since 2010.
He would go to do commercial fishing on the lake shores of Lake Victoria in Mpigi District, central Uganda.
There was no problem as he would regularly visit his family in Rwanda and return to Uganda without experiencing any problem.
But late 2018, as he returned from central Uganda with his merchandise – 180 kgs of fish – his bus was stopped as it approached Kisoro Municipality and all passengers told to get out. It turned out that it was a security swoop hunting for Rwandans.
Ntirenganya said: “We were eventually about 50 Rwandans and we were taken to court. In court, we were told that our crime was being on Uganda soil. I contested this, and I told the court that I was in Uganda due to the agreements signed by East African Community countries. But the judge said we were spies.”
The court ruled, he said, that they be imprisoned for 18 months or pay 1.5 million Uganda shillings (about Rwf350, 000).
He was then imprisoned at Kisoro prison for months and Kabale prison and later in at Kiburara Prison Farm in Ibanda District in western Uganda before he was recently set free.
In all these prisons, hard slave labour was the order of the day.
“We were always beaten as worked. In Kiburara, we worked under heavy regular beatings. It was horrible but God kept us arrive,” he said.
“Three of our colleagues died from there. They just wrapped their bodies in blankets and we never saw them again.”
Later, he was transferred to Kisoro where he did more hard labour before he was set free early last month. When he, initially, requested for his merchandise, the officer who had arrested him “asked whether I wanted fish or to go home.”
When he said he wanted his fish, he was put back in prison for three days.
When he got out, again, he gave a different response to the same question the officer had posed.
In March, Kigali issued an advisory against travel to Uganda citing continued harassment, illegal arrests, torture and irregular deportations of Rwandan nationals in Uganda; Kampala’s active support to dissident and terrorist groups bent on destabilising Rwanda, and economic sabotage.