After a week of anticipation — and some confusion — 51 evacuees from Afghanistan arrived in Uganda on Wednesday morning.
It’s the first group of an expected 2,000 people who could be hosted by the East African country in the coming months.
In the capital, Kampala, the arrival of Afghans has become the talk of the town.
“I heard a lot on social media that there will be refugees from Afghanistan. For all this time, we’ve been waiting,” said Peter Anyole, who works in logistics.
Many Ugandans were surprised when the government announced last week that they would be hosting Afghans.
After all, the two countries have little connection to one another.
“We received a request about whether we can temporarily accommodate these Afghan brothers and sisters as they get documented and prepared to be eventually taken to the US for settlement there."
“We received a request about whether we can temporarily accommodate these Afghan brothers and sisters as they get documented and prepared to be eventually taken to the US for settlement there,” explained Uganda’s Minister of Information, Chris Baryomunsi, during a press conference on Tuesday.
Uganda is one of several countries that had agreed to assist the United States in a rushed and chaotic effort to evacuate Afghans, after their country was taken over by the Taliban.
Those arriving in Uganda include at-risk Afghans and foreign nationals who are temporarily staying in hotels.
Nongovernmental organizations including International Rescue Committee and Mercy Corps will be assisting with food, health care, and other services.
“For those of you who are not Ugandans, it is Ugandan culture that, once you are at home, and someone comes running for safety, usually we open our doors,” Baryomunsi said.
Indeed, Uganda hosts the largest number of refugees in Africa, mostly from neighboring South Sudan. It’s also the fourth-largest refugee-hosting country in the world, according to the United Nations refugee agency.
Many Ugandans who The World interviewed agreed it was important to welcome those fleeing conflict.
“We have to help them, because the conditions in their country are not good."
“We have to help them, because the conditions in their country are not good. So, we have to help them,” university student Shamim Nangendo said.
Others wanted more information about the arrangement and what it could mean for Ugandans.
“It’s not bad to welcome someone as refugees. But Uganda, as a country, they have to look for a specific place for where they can keep those people,” construction worker Stephen Awekonimungu said.
“And they should not forget [to take] care of Ugandan people,” he said, noting how many Ugandans continue to struggle with poverty.
Some of his colleagues expressed some concerns over how the security situation with the Taliban could impact Ugandans.
Under the previous Taliban regime, Afghanistan became a safe haven for groups like al-Qaeda, which staged deadly attacks in East Africa.
Still, they said if the government takes care of security concerns, they are happy to welcome Afghans.
“They are most welcome to come to Uganda, because you never know, tomorrow it might be us.”
“Because they are also human beings like us,” said another construction worker named Dennish Erem. “They are most welcome to come to Uganda, because you never know, tomorrow it might be us.”