Government reviews refugee law
No refugee shall be penalised on account of illegal entry or presence on Rwandan territory once a new Bill presented to Parliament is passed in its current form.
Government tabled the Bill in Parliament last week, seeking to review the law relating to refugees by introducing critical clauses missing in previous laws.
Tabling the Bill, the Minister for Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs, Seraphine Mukantabana, told lawmakers the law governing refugees and asylum seekers in Rwanda ought to be reviewed because amendments in a 2001 law and the 2006 law do not reflect the current state of affairs.
According to Mukantabana, among other changes, the Bill seeks to streamline work of her ministry in handling refugees’ affairs since the National Refugee Council no longer performs day to day work concerning refugees as stipulated in the current law.
The new Bill will be scrutinised by parliament’s standing committee.
New clauses to the Bill include: non-refoulement; non-penalisation; as well as others that tackle issues to do with refugee camps management; and others focusing on durable solutions for the refugees’ problem.
Non-refoulement, a key facet of refugee law, concerns the protection of refugees from being returned to places where their lives or freedoms could be threatened. It is a principle of the international law which forbids the rendering of a true victim of persecution to their persecutor; persecutor generally referring to a state-actor – country or government.
Under the article 23: [Non-refoulement], “no refugee shall be expelled or returned in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of the territories where their life or freedom would be threatened on account of race, religion, nationality, membership of à particular social group or political opinion.”
But now Article 24 introduces: non-penalisation, no refugee shall be penalised on account of illegal entry or presence on Rwandan territory.
On refugee camps management, three new clauses – 26, 27 and 28 – are introduced to streamline aspects of: settlement of refugees; mechanisms for entry to and exit from refugee camps; and cooperation with funding organisations.
On the settlement of refugees, the Bill states that the ministry, in collaboration with other concerned government institutions, shall decide on the locations of transit centres, refugee camps and settlement areas. On voluntary repatriation, the ministry, in collaboration with other institutions, may facilitate a refugee’s repatriation upon written request, the Bill states.
Under article 31, integration into Rwanda is also possible as the government “may allocate settlement areas to refugees and integrate them where possible.”
Environmental concerns highlighted
Even though MPs welcomed the Bill, several issues, including environmental degradation brought about by vast refugee settlements in the country, were highlighted.
MP Adolphe Bazatoha, chairperson of the Chamber of Deputies’ standing Committee on Agriculture, Livestock and Environment, observed that refugees’ issues do not only concern the people affected alone but also focus on the place where they are resettled in the host country, among others.
Bazatoha said: “Within the framework of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) there is research that was carried out, and findings indicated that refugees play a big role in destroying the environment, – with many attendant consequences.”
The minister stressed that once refugees are in Rwanda, they, like Rwandan citizens are obliged to respect all the country’s laws – including laws governing environment.
Mukantabana said: “They are not above the law. When they violate the law they face teh law like Rwandans do.”
MP Emmanuel Gatera asked the minister whether refugees, as stakeholders were consulted when the Bill was drafted. He also requested that government, through the minister, make time, later, to brief the House on matters to do with refugees.
The minister said refugees were adequately consulted as well as other ministries and agencies concerned by the refugee issue.
Contact email: james.karuhanga[at]newtimes.co.rw