Sixty Burundi nationals are stranded in Busia town as no one wants to get close to them following warnings that the Ebola virus could find its way into Kenya because foreigners are allegedly being allowed to enter without proper screening.
The authorities and residents have refused to get close to the travellers or facilitate their transit to the Kakuma refugee camp for fear of contracting the virus.
The Burundians crossed into Kenya from Ebola-hit Uganda five days ago. They left their homes in Burundi because of insecurity.
Their presence in Kenya, given that they passed through Jinja, a Ugandan town that has recorded several Ebola cases, illustrates how Kenya is treating what could become a pandemic.
After arriving in Busia, the travellers camped at the border police station, but officers told them to go back to Uganda as they posed a health risk to Kenya. They left the station, but they are camping on the side of a road.
“Our journey to this country started one month ago from Kibitochi, Burundi, through Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda and now in Kenya,” said Ms Toheyimana Jozerina.
“We are on our way to Kakuma, running away from war and insecurity in our country. It is only in Kenya in the entire East Africa region that we feel safe, but since we arrived here, things are tough.”
She added: “No one wants to associate with us. They think we may have contracted the Ebola virus on our way here. When we arrived, we were directed to the police station but they told us to leave and go back to Uganda.
“We are not ready to do that. We will remain here as we find a way to Kakuma.”
Ms Jozerina, a mother of five, was with her husband among the 60 persons who sought refuge in Kenya. She said the families met along the road in different villages in Burundi before embarking on their journey to Kenya.
On their way to Kenya in the last month, Ms Jozerina said, they have been doing menial jobs to get money to buy food and other essentials.
“It has not been easy to get here. We have worked on people’s farms and washed people’s clothes in Uganda to make some money to buy food and facilitate our movement to this place,” she said.
“All we are requesting is assistance and facilitation to Kakuma. We are ready to be screened for Ebola but we are not going back to Uganda.”
Taken in circles
Mr Patrick Okello, a bodaboda operator in Busia town, said the Burundians have been taken in circles by Immigration officials and are getting little help.
The major concern for residents, he said, was the outbreak of the Ebola virus in Uganda and they feel the travellers should be screened for the virus because they came from Burundi via Uganda, where the virus has killed dozens of people.
“These people are already here, and they are mingling with our people. What if they contracted the Ebola virus on their way here?” he said.
“They went to the police station. They were told to go back to the immigration offices, where they were told to seek help from the Red Cross.
“Now they are here, and with Ebola in Uganda, where they passed on their way here, we are scared of moving near them and offering assistance because we don’t know their Ebola status.
“The government should screen them to establish their Ebola status and then find how they will be assisted to get to their destination or take them back to Burundi.”
The immigrants crossed into Kenya without being cleared by immigration officials, said Busia acting County Commissioner Kipchumba Rutto.
Mr Rutto advised them to go back to the immigration offices and be cleared before they can be assisted. But they refused and that is why they were told to leave the police station in Busia.
“These people are in Kenya illegally. We advised them to go back and be cleared by our immigration officers before we can facilitate their movement and protection while in Kenya but they are adamant,” he said.
“They have camped outside the police station, and with the Ebola outbreak in Uganda, where they passed on their way to Kenya, we will not allow them in our midst if they don’t adhere to the instructions we are giving them.”