Monday July 9, 2018
Deportation of migrants across the East African Community member states has caused a stir, with complaints that the crackdown contravenes the protocol that promotes free movement of people and labour within the bloc.Although it is rare to find Rwandans without national IDs, Uganda claimed that the migrants did not have travel documents when their buses were intercepted and escorted back to Rwanda.
Experts now warn that such deportations — conducted by governments against EAC citizens — point to a failure of member states to align their national laws with EAC protocols.
“The EAC protocol is supposed to be greater than national laws, but the countries have refused to recognise that. The spirit of integration and free movement of labour is being damaged by nationalism and protectionism,” Tom Mulisa, a PhD researcher on EAC integration constitutional law told The EastAfrican.
Member states in 2009 adopted an EAC protocol on free movement of people, labour and services, and the right of residence of their citizens in the region.
The protocol provided for cross-border movement of citizens, removed restrictions on movement of labour and services as well as gave rights to residence to migrants in the EAC.
Three states — Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya — under the so-called Coalition of the Wiling, adopted the use of national IDs as valid travel documents.
However, years later, deportations of workers and citizens continues to occur, causing worry that the protocol is not being respected.
Just last week, Uganda deported 72 Rwandans for being in the country illegally.
At the Uganda-Rwanda borders, it is now common practice for Rwandans who are not travelling directly to Kampala to be denied entry to Uganda, sources say.
“Rwandans have now learnt to say that they are travelling to Kampala even if they are going to some other place in Uganda. If they say they are travelling to far away places like Bunyoro, they will not be allowed in,” a source working at the border post told The EastAfrican.
“Border authorities assume that those who travel to far away areas in Uganda are individuals looking for casual labour who will not return to Rwanda.”
Rwanda’s State Minister for Foreign Affairs Olivier Nduhungirehe, acknowledged that such deportations and denial of free movement to citizens affect the EAC integration process.
“We are trying to resolve it bilaterally,” he said in a short text message.
Rwanda also deported 300 Burundians last month, mostly casual labourers. Burundi’s borders are closed to Rwandans since 2015, when its government accused Rwanda of supporting a coup plot against President Pierre Nkurunziza.
In January this year, Tanzania ordered more than 100 EAC citizens out of the country, saying they had “failed to follow the law.”
They included, over 70 Kenyans, seven Rwandans and two Ugandans. Later in March, hundreds of Ugandan teachers were also expelled from Tanzania, raising more questions about Tanzania’s commitment to the EAC Common Market Protocol.
In June, Kenya deported 30 Ugandans, saying they had entered the country illegally.
“Deported people can always challenge these acts at the East African Court of Justice since the lives of people — especially those in border communities — have suffered because of this,” Mr Mulisa, said.
He said that political misunderstandings between EAC governments could be playing a hand in the prevention of free movement.
“Political will is something important; recent tensions between Uganda and Kenya led to the deportation of Ugandans from Kenya,” he noted.
“And one cannot rule out that the tensions between Kigali and Kampala can be related to why Ugandans decided to send Rwandans back,” he said.
“At the end of the day, there is no integration without free movement of people, and only strong political will can solve these problems.”