Migrants expelled by Tanzania run to East African Court

A group of over 1200 people expelled from Tanzania have dragged the Tanzania government to the East African Court of Justice for redress over the manner in which they were expelled and their property destroyed.

In the same petition, the group has also sued the Ugandan government for failure to protect and order the Tanzanian counterparts to compensate them.

Between 2000-2006, The president  of Tanzania, Jakaya Kikwete, through a presidential order directed the expulsion of an estimated group of over 50,000 people from Tanzania who lived along the Tanzania - Uganda boarder mostly the River Kagera basin, on account that they were refugees from Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi or Democratic Republic of Congo.

The order  named "Operation Kimbunga” was  enforced by the Tanzanian Joint Task Force comprising of the Police Force, the Department of Immigration, the Intelligence Unit and the Tanzania People's Defense Forces.

Many of those expelled had lived in Tanzania for several decades.

Addressing journalists on Tuesday, the group’s lawyers of Mwesigwa Rukutana & Co. Advocates and OSH Advocates said for over 10 years, both governments have refused to resolve their matter prompting them to go to court.

“These are tens of thousands of people that were arbitrarily expelled from their lands, homes, businesses and farms, and whose property and source of livelihood have been either seized, destroyed or converted by officials and members of the armed forces of the Tanzanian government. Despite their cries to both governments, these people have neither been resettled nor defended by the Ugandan government where the majority of them now live in destitution,” Mwesigwa Rukutana said.

Among the expelled were persons who are citizens of Tanzania by decent, or by naturalization whereas some were immigrants to Tanzania who had stayed there for about 40  years, while other individuals were intermarried  with Tanzanians and resided  in Tanzania.

Also, among those expelled were cattle keepers mainly from Uganda who resided along this stretch in search of water and pastures .

According to Rukutana before the expulsion,  the  Tanzanian government  surveyed the existing boundary pillars (BP27-BP4) which border Uganda and Tanzania and that the survey claimed a big chunk of land that initially fell into the jurisdiction of Uganda, to Tanzania.

“The area was inhabited by thousands of people who included peasant farmers growing food mainly for survival, rearing goats, cattle, and sheep among others. These were supported on the small pieces of land they had owned for decades and tilled to support their families for years. Others had established residences with thriving businesses in mostly trade and large-scale farming. Most of them owned ranches with thousands of cattle and other livestock as well. They employed thousands of people on these ranches. Everyone in the arbitrarily converted land was forced to leave.,” he said.

He noted that the eviction was done in a cruel manner that saw the Tanzanian army loot and share the victims’ property .

“Their homes were burnt, destroyed or sold off to Tanzanian leaders and  persons from the other parts of Tanzania. The mass expulsion was characterized with unlawful arrests, assaults, illegal detentions without trial, torture, murder, rape and other inhumane and degrading treatment. The expelled were also subjected to gross injustices wherein families were separated with their close relatives being forced out of Tanzania and others staying behind coupled with intentional discrimination by the authorities and leaders of the Tanzanian government.”

According to Yofesi Karugaba, one of the victims, ever since the expulsion, they have lived as destitutes in concentration camps at Kyaaka 1 and 2 and Kazinga.

“We are currently scattered and live in camps in various countries across the East African region, in dehumanizing conditions. We  live in agony and distress. Some of our colleagues move from place to place in search of livelihood due to lack of stable designated places of residence as most are still settled in concentration camps while others are migrating from one place to another in search for livelihood,”Karugaba said.

The group says that despite numerous engagements and interfaces with various stakeholders including the governments of Tanzania and Uganda together with the United Nations, there has not been a headway.

“The Tanzanian government has remained adamant and has not allowed the expelled persons to return to their land. It has also refused to compensate and pay the damage suffered by the expelled persons due to the arbitrary actions of its authorities while carrying out these illegal expulsions,”Rukutana said.

He said in the petition, the Ugandan government is faulted for failure and neglecting to recognize and protect the rights of the expelled persons, majority of whom are Ugandans.

“It has failed to hold the Tanzanian government liable for their atrocities and has acquiesced in the unlawful border re-affirmation process that led to the displacement. It has also failed to resettle the expelled persons in a dignified manner and place.”

In their petition, the migrants accuse both governments of failure to constitute a joint verification committee aimed at resolving their plight.


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