GATUNA - Three thousand Rwandan refugees started to return from Uganda on Thursday, with half of them arriving on the first day. Another 1,500 were expected yesterday, with up to 242 reported to have arrived in morning hours.
The returnees were composed what was commonly known as ‘the Kibati group’ in Isingiro District, western Uganda. The first group arrived at Gatuna boarder post aboard 26 Fuso trucks. The Chairperson of the National Commission for Refugee (NCR), Frank Gatare, said the government spent Frw20 million to transport the refugees back home.
Both groups were welcomed by officials from Gicumbi District, Immigration Department and security organs.
Upon arrival, the refugees were registered at a transit centre in Rukomo, about 20 kilometres away from the border, from where they would proceed to their respective districts.
Gatare said the returnees are given food supplies to use for the next three months.
The returnees, who had crossed to Uganda from Tanzania some time back, sang in celebration as they crossed into Rwanda.
Vincent Rugerinyange, one of them, who hails from the Southern Province, told this newspaper at the transit centre that he and his wife were overjoyed for returning to their motherland thirteen years after they started refugee life.
“We are extremely happy that we are going to settle down in our homeland again, thanks be to God,” he said.
However, there are reports that some of the refugees been forced to return home, although both Uganda and Rwanda have denied that, saying it was a voluntary exercise.
Majority of them left Rwanda after the 1994 Genocide, but were thrown out by Tanzanian authorities in 2003, hence crossing to Uganda.
Kampala denied them asylum status resulting into tripartite arrangement between Uganda, Rwanda and the United Nations High Commissioner, for their eventual repatriation.
Meanwhile, Kigali has welcomed the exercise, with Foreign minister Dr Charles Murigande saying that it was a positive development.
“We are very happy for them to come back home,” Dr. Charles Murigande said.
He said the returnees would benefit from resettlement packages including household items to enable them easily re-integrated into the community.
The Spokesman for Uganda’s Immigration Department, Eunice Kisembo, said: “We have been preparing them for some time. Our role was to sensitise and convince them that it was in their best interest to go back home, and all those that have gone back did so voluntarily.”
Recently, media reports indicated that some of the Rwandan illegal immigrants in Kibati had disappeared into Ugandan local communities after officials in Kampala reportedly threatened to deport them.
Kisembo said the Office of the Prime Minister screened all the immigrants to determine those that carried refugee identification papers, and that only twenty were found to be genuine refugees. The twenty, she said, are under the care of UNHCR.
Dr. Murigande appealed to all countries hosting Rwandan refugees to encourage them to return home since their country was in peace.
“They should come and participate in the development of their nation,” he said.
Additional reporting by Charles Kazooba in Kampala