The East African Community (EAC), and the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, Tuesday signed a pact to work together in protecting the rights of displaced people in the region.
Ambassador Juma Mwapachu, the EAC Secretary-General and Oluseyi Bajulaiye, the UNHCR representative to Tanzania, signed the Memorandum of Understanding, establishing this new cooperation framework in Dar es Salaam.
A subsequent communiqué states that the agreement, “establishes a framework for cooperation between the EAC and UNHCR in areas of common concern, including the protection of forcibly displaced people, regulatory regimes affecting the movement of persons, immigration and refugee management”.
“It is really good for the citizens of East Africa as a whole given the region’s history that has been characterized by incidences of insecurity.
This [pact] comes as an addition to other various legal frameworks that were already in place,” said Robert Ssali, the Permanent Secretary in Rwanda’s Ministry of EAC affairs.
The EAC-UNHCR communiqué adds that forced displacement has long plagued EAC partner states: Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.
It notes that more than 374,000 refugees have fled to Kenya; Uganda currently is home to more than 142,000 while Tanzania hosts almost 140,000.
It says that durable solutions are being sought for hundreds of thousands of refugees.
“For example, since 2002, more than 500,000 Burundians have returned home from Tanzania and other neighbouring countries. Another 120,000 South Sudanese have been repatriated from Kenya and Uganda since 2008,” reads part of the joint statement.
“Meanwhile, 163,000 Burundian refugees from 1972 living in three ‘Old Settlements’ in Western Tanzania accepted a landmark opportunity from the Tanzanian government to apply for naturalization. Over 155,000 have already been naturalized”.
Also noted is that in recognition of these realities and opportunities, UNHCR and the EAC agreed to co-operate in the promotion of the rights of refugees and internally displaced people, including strengthening of national legislation.
The two organizations will also join efforts to enhance their response to the increasingly complex migratory movements of people within and through the sub-region.