The East African council of ministers meets this week to deal with the thorny issue of Rwandans and other nationals expelled recently from Tanzania.
Shem Bageine, Uganda's minister of state for East African Community Affairs, said the expulsion had taken a regional dimension. The minister announced the meeting while speaking to MPs who are members of the committee on East African Community Affairs at Lake Victoria Serena Resort, off Entebbe road, last Friday.
The workshop, organised by Trade Mark East Africa, was meant to sensitise lawmakers on the regional integration process. In August, Tanzania expelled an estimated 20,000 Rwandan, Burundian and Ugandan nationals accused of living in the country illegally.
The expulsion order was issued on July 25, 2013 by Tanzania's President Jakaya Kikwete. The illegal immigrants were given up to August 11 to leave Tanzania. The immigrants crossed over to Uganda and some have since been deported back to Rwanda and Burundi. Many of those expelled as 'illegal immigrants' had lived in Tanzania for several decades, according to reports.
The deportees claimed that Tanzanian police arrested and forced them out of the country with no chance to pack or bid farewell. Rwanda and Tanzania's relations have soured since Kikwete suggested that Uganda and Rwanda negotiate with rebel groups operating in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This angered Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who accused Kikwete of siding with the rebel Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).
Bageine said the council of ministers that sat in Arusha, Tanzania, early this month had resolved to treat the matter as a regional issue and have it solved at the regional level instead of leaving it to Kigali and Dar - es -Salaam. The minister was responding to a concern raised by Dr Kenneth Olusegun Omona, (Kaberamaido MP), who said the expulsion had cast the EAC integration process in bad light.
"When we were in Arusha [early September], this matter was raised by the minister of Rwanda [in charge of EAC]. We discussed it, and the Tanzanian minister in charge of EAC admitted that there were mistakes and errors committed which should not have happened. We agreed that this matter should be resolved as quickly as possible," Bageine said.
He added: "A meeting has been scheduled for October 4, which will be attended by all the five partner states' representatives in order to iron out this problem."
Bageine said the meeting would be held at Kihere, near Rusumo, at the Rwanda-Tanzania border post. Bageine, who doubles as chairperson of the EAC council of ministers, expects that the Friday meeting will resolve the standoff.
According to a BBC report, some Rwandan and Burundian deportees, who had lived in Tanzania for more than 40 years, complained that they had bought land and built houses but were forced to leave everything behind.
Bageine said he had got assurances from his Tanzanian counterpart that their government was keen to look into the matter and even compensate those whose properties may have been damaged or lost.
"An issue of this nature works against the spirit of the integration," he said, adding that the EAC treaty provides for free movement of people across the regional bloc.
After the Friday meeting, the council of ministers will forward their resolutions to the heads of state summit, which is set to for November this year.