The East African Community (EAC) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Monday signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) aimed at renewing and strengthening cooperation in addressing issues on refugee and asylum seekers in need of international protection, across the region.

The MoU also promote the rights of East Africans to seek and enjoy asylum for persons in need of international protection in accordance with international refugee law and uphold the non-derogable principle of non-refoulment within the region.

The MoU was signed at the EAC Headquarters in Arusha, Tanzania by the EAC Secretary General, Dr. Peter Mathuki and the UNHCR Regional Director for the East, Horn and Great Lakes Regions, Clementine Nkweta-Salami.

The partnership further seeks to support EAC Partner States to create conditions conducive for comprehensive solutions to displacement including; voluntary repatriation and sustainable reintegration.

Dr. Mathuki reiterated EAC’s commitment to advancing comprehensive regional solutions to forced displacement situations impacting the region.

“The MOU seeks to leverage the EAC Summit of Heads of State and refugee management experts in the pursuit of harmonised management of refugee affairs by the Partner States informed by the best practices of international refugee law,” he stated.

The MoU is a follow-up to another one that was signed between the two organizations in 2010.

It provides a framework for collaborating on freedom of movement as enshrined in the EAC Common Market Protocol; strengthening protection and programming for refugee and IDP children and mainstreaming the eradication of statelessness among protection and solutions initiatives for forcibly displaced.

On her end, Ms. Nkweta-Salami said that UNHCR would cooperate with the EAC in the promotion and protection of human rights for the forcibly displaced persons in East Africa, including through appropriate collaboration with Partner States National Human Rights Commission and other human rights bodies.

“Through this collaboration, we will prioritize addressing the mixed movements of refugees and migrants in the region, in accordance with the EAC framework, binding international and national refugee law and the protection of persons with special needs,” she noted.

The Director further stated that the UNHCR is committed to supporting the EAC in capacity building on humanitarian issues, early warning, and peace-building mechanisms.

The EAC Refugee Management Policy has already been developed and agreed upon by Partner States with the next step being its tabling and approval by the Sectoral Council on Interstate Security before adoption by the Council of Ministers as per the East African Community rules and regulations.

“This will bring on board several state and non-state actors in the area of refugee management,” Dr.Mathuki added.

The UNHCR Director was accompanied by Amb. Mohamed Affey, UNHCR Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa; Charles Mballa, Regional Head of Protection Services and Senai Terrefe,the Senior Protection Coordinator.

By Fred Azelwa.