Burundi unrest 'a major threat' to EAC bloc

Rwandan and Ugandan ministers in charge of East African Community Affairs (EAC), yesterday, visited Mahama Refugee Camp in Kirehe District, to assess the welfare of Burundian refugees there.
Burundian refugees at Mahama Refugee Camp. (Stephen Rwembeho)
Burundian refugees at Mahama Refugee Camp. (Stephen Rwembeho)

Rwandan and Ugandan ministers in charge of East African Community Affairs (EAC), yesterday, visited Mahama Refugee Camp in Kirehe District, to assess the welfare of Burundian refugees there.

Valentine Rugwabiza (Rwanda) and Shem Bageine (Uganda) visited the camp, which currently hosts over 23,000 refugees as part of the regional efforts to restore peace in Burundi.

The visit was in line with the implementation of last week’s recommendations by the EAC heads of state and a subsequent meeting by the council of ministers.

During the meetings, the ministers responsible for EAC affairs were tasked to visit refugee camps in Tanzania and Rwanda to assess the humanitarian situation in camps.

“The Burundi crisis is a concern for all member states…absence of peace in Burundi actually means lack of peace in the whole region. We are not happy when we see people fleeing their homes…we are thus determined to see this end,” Bageine said.

He added that the Burundian crisis, which has driven over 100,000 people out of the country, had dented the good image that the EAC enjoyed as a bloc, adding that human suffering couldn’t be taken for granted.

“The Burundi crisis is not just a legal issue, but a political one. Incidences of this nature because of politics are not acceptable. EAC was proud and actually offered example to the rest of Africa, but now we are sad.”

Rugwabiza said the reports from the visit on what is on ground in Burundi and refugee camps would be submitted forthwith to the heads of state summit, due in the next few days.

Refugees’ demands

A number of refugees who spoke to The New Times said the camp was already congested, noting that they lacked basic needs.

“We lack enough water and firewood to cook…the meals we get are not enough. It’s not because Rwanda and its partners are not doing their best, but they are overwhelmed by our ever increasing numbers. It would be better if UNHCR could relocate some of us to other countries so as to create space for those still coming,” said Stanley Sinzoyiheba.

The refugees also urged the EAC to pressure the government of Burundi to end armament of militia.

“One of the problems facing the country is that it is full of armed militia terrorising people each day. So, any peace initiative must go with immediate disarmament of militia, locally known as Imbonerakure,” said Jeanne Uwimana, a refugee.

The refugees, including those still in the transit facilities, have now risen to over 27,000 while government has previously said it only has capacity to accomodate 50,000.

The refugees, who have been coming for the past one month, are mainly fleeing from threats by a paramilitary youth group, Imbonerakure, which is allied to the ruling party.

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