Integrate Refugees situation in East Africa Into the Host State, Leaders Told

Published on Monday 26th October 2009

The refugee situation in East Africa has reached alarming levels and the United Nations is urging members countries to adopt the Tanzanian formula of integration.

Even though there is no armed conflict in East Africa at the moment, there are about 880,000 refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi.

This is because of civil war in Burundi prior to the peace talks, strife in Somalia and eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, war between Ethiopia and Eritrea and the post election violence in Kenya.

The latest report by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) says people fleeing their home countries cite poor human rights record, discrimination on account of ethnicity, persecution for political beliefs, lack of sound democratic ideals, poor governance and intolerance to dissent.

Recently, Tanzania gave citizenship to 3,568 of 160,000 Burundi refugees who have lived in the country for over three decades.

Other EAC member states are being asked to emulate this example and absorb refugees who are not willing to return to their countries of origin, but who have useful skills.

Kenya's hands could be tied by its immigration laws, even though top government officials say they are considering granting citizenship to refugees born in the country and those who have lived there for more than 20 years.

Immigration Minister Otieno Kajwang' recently told The EastAfrican that it is up to parliament to change the laws governing refugees.

He said the main problem is that some of the countries the refugees fled are still in active combat.

Tanzania and Rwanda are the only countries without IDPs.

According to George Kuchio, senior protection officer of UNHCR Uganda, EAC member states, in the spirit of the regional integration, should expedite their protocols on freedom of movement, not just for goods and services.

The countries, however, during negotiations on the Common Market, failed to reach a consensus on automatic citizenship of long staying individuals.

They instead resolved that national laws should apply. But according to Beatrice Kiraso, deputy EAC secretary general in charge of political federation, the EAC is working on a framework that will be used to address the plight of refugees and IDPs.

There are 281,592 refugees from Burundi in various EAC states, 21,093 in Burundi and 100,000 IDPs.

There are 9,688 refugees from Kenya, 320,605 in Kenya and 404, 000 IDPs. Uganda has 162,132 refugees in the country and 7,548 outside and 853,000 IDPs.

Tanzania has 1,270 refugees outside the country (mainly those who fled violence in Zanzibar), 321,090 in the country (mainly from Burundi) and zero IDPs. Rwanda has 72,530 outside, 55,062 in the country and zero IDPs.

The UNHCR says it is unable to solve the refugee problem on its own, given that it does not have the mandate to deal with IDPs, whose protection is the responsibility of the host country.

But through its cluster approach. UNHCR assists governments to take care of IDPs and end situations of displacement.

The organisation has helped repatriate over 50,000 refugees to Burundi, and over 100,000 to the southern Sudan region.

According to the 2006 statistics, the total number of people uprooted worldwide stood at 42 million.

Today, Africa hosts 10.5 million displaced people.


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