EALA members address journalists in Kigali yesterday. (Fernand Mugisha)

EALA members address journalists in Kigali yesterday. (Fernand Mugisha)

The members of the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) were, yesterday, addressing journalists at the Ministry of EAC Affairs (MINEAC) in Kigali, following the conclusion of their tour of Mahama Refugee Camp, home to thousands of Burundian refugees.

MP Abubakar Zein (Kenya), told journalists that ?what we want you to focus on, and want east Africans to focus on? is to put the attention to the Burundians now forced to take refuge.

?Every effort is being made to provide the basic facilities and services that will make them have dignity even in difficult circumstances. Please let?s focus on the needs and concerns of the refugees.?

Zein was trying to steer clear of questions about other matters pertaining to the EAC, which, he said, ?can always be brought up later but not now when the most pressing issue is the plight of the Burundian refugees.?

Talking the future

Asked if East Africans could at least be optimistic that measures would be put in place so that no east African citizens will, in the future, find themselves in a similar situation, Zein admitted he ?cannot predict the future.?

?What I can say is, let?s build a coalition together. East Africans and those in positions of authority, and those who have been given responsibilities and trusteeship in some of these institutions, including EALA, so that we can work together and then say ?never again? will this happen in our region,? he said.

?But also, let?s be pragmatic and say, ?in case it happens again, we would have put in place structures that would allow us to very quickly attend to this situation and not let them reach a point where we can have more than 28,000 people in refugee camps.??

The height of the impasse

Events in Burundi took a dip on April 26 when the ruling CNDD-FDD party picked President Nkurunziza as its candidate for what would be his third term in office.

The next day, hundreds of Burundians took to the streets to let their disapproval known.

The protests have since claimed the lives of more than 30 people.

Before protests in the capital started, thousands of Burundians who do not supported Nkurunziza?s third term bid had started fleeing from the country, citing persecution.

Earlier this week, EALA dispatched two teams, one to Tanzania and another to Rwanda, to visit refugee camps there and to bond with and console the victims of the crisis; and re-affirm EALA?s commitment to Burundi in finding lasting solution to the current political impasse, among others.

Zein, who is leading the team to Rwanda, said they could not readily divulge specifics as regards their recommendations since they need to first ?compare notes? with the team that visited Tanzania.

His compatriot, MP Abubakar Ogle, said: ?The framers of our Treaty, in their wisdom, realised that there was need to maintain a responsible, peaceful East African Community (EAC). It is in that spirit that they crafted Article 6 of the Treaty, which provides for co-existence, rule of law, order, and good governance.?

?For as long as we observe those tenets in the Community, there should be no reason for refugees.?

Article 6 on Fundamental Principles of the Community, lists the fundamental principles that shall govern the achievement of the objectives of the Community by the partner states, including mutual trust, political will and sovereign equality; peaceful co-existence and good neighborliness; and peaceful settlement of disputes.

Zein also emphasised the importance of subsections three and four in Article 124: Regional Peace and Security.

The Treaty stipulates that the Partner States shall evolve and establish regional disaster management mechanisms which shall harmonise training operations, technical co-operation and support in this area.

?The partner states undertake to establish common mechanisms for the management of refugees,? reads part of Article 124.

MP Celestin Kabahizi (Rwanda) said they cannot report that the refugees are well since being a refugee itself is bad enough but he noted that, according to their observation, the basic needs are being provided.

Concern for children

Over 110,000 civilians have fled Burundi with over 70,000 crossing to Tanzania, over 9,800 to DR Congo, and over 3,500 are reportedly in Uganda.

By Wednesday, Rwanda was hosting 29, 361 Burundian refugees, including 14, 945 children.

Among other special challenges for which solutions are being devised, Kabahizi said, there are hundreds of children missing out on school.

?We are well informed by the ministry in charge that if these children delay here, which is not the desired situation, school programmes are being planned for them.?

Zein also said they were most concerned about children.

?Many were suffering different levels of malnutrition but there is a screening exercise targeting all those who are coming in, to identify their needs.?

He was, however, happy to note that special feeding programmes for children were considered and ?we are happy to report to you that many of those children, their health conditions have improved since they arrived at the camps.?

James Karuhanga, The New Times

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