UCC Policy on SimCard Registration Casts Uncertainty on Refugees’ Ability to Own Phones

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The new policy by the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) on SimCard registration leaves worry on the possibility of refugees to own phones in Uganda.

In what UCC described as a move to curb mobile phone-aided crime, telecommunications operators were ordered to consider National Identity Cards and/or Passports as the only valid documents during registration of simcards.

They were further directed to match their databases with the National ID database to establish whether the identities of registered subscribers are a match, short of which no simcard would be activated.

Worry however remains on whether and how refugees who neither own a Ugandan Passport nor appear in the Uganda National ID database will be able to own phones and communicate.

Currently, Uganda is hosting over 1,000,000 refugees from neighbouring war-torn countries of Burundi, South Sudan, Congo among others.

According to the United Nation High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), an average of 2000 refugees continue to flock in daily from South Sudan since the break out of fresh clashes last year.

Uganda has also been known world over for having the most liberal refugee policies; allowing them to get a job, own a piece of land and enjoy almost equal rights like normal citizens, including access to Education, access to phones and communication services among others.

With the new UCC policy however, it remains faint how refugees will access telecommunications services since they own neither a passport nor a National ID.

UCC Executive Director, Eng. Godfrey Mutabaazi, while announcing the directive said “refugees in Uganda who need to own simcards will require approval and an official document from the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) before they can access a simcard.”

“Refugees must be registered with the OPM, UNHCR and must have identification. They must also be known and identified,” said UCC publicist Pamela Ankunda when contacted.

The move to allow telecoms access to personal data for verification has been criticized and challenged by civil society players who claim the telecoms will misuse it.

Over the past years, telecoms have availed personal data to a number of people including politicians who went ahead to campaign via mobile phones.

More worry remains on what could happen if the same telecoms are allowed access to the refugee database, and end up giving it to the governments they fled.

PC Tech Magazine understands that some people accorded refugee status are political activists running away from political persecution from their home governments.

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