Come December 31, 2017, Rwandan refugees will be stripped of the refugee status and have until that time to return home honourably.
They can also acquire citizenship of host countries or obtain the requisite documents and stay legally as Rwandan citizens.
Under the Cessation Clause, which host countries will invoke later this year, the Rwandan refugees can also apply for fresh international protection on new grounds.
However, it will be extremely difficult for one to argue that Rwanda is not safe enough for their return considering the abundant evidence to the fact that the country is not only safe for all but it also offers its citizens equal opportunity to thrive.
Thanks to Rwanda’s significant gains over the last two decades, UNCHR has reached the conclusion that the reasons that made millions of Rwandans become refugees between 1959 and 1998 were no longer in place and subsequently appealed to the refugees to voluntarily return home or risk losing their status.
It is safe to argue that this step is long overdue considering that Rwanda has long created the necessary conditions for all its citizens to return home and freely partake in the process to rebuild the country.
The UNHCR has previously postponed the implementation of the Cessation Clause on Rwandan refugees – having initially recommended that it comes into force in 2011 – under pressure from different actors, some of whom with interest in the status quo.
But, finally, on the recommendation of the UNHCR, some host countries have put Rwandan refugees on notice, urging them to repatriate or risk losing their status by December 31.
Just last Friday, the Zimbabwean Minister for Public Service, Labour and Social Services called on Rwandan refugees in her country to voluntarily return home ahead of the invocation of the Cessation Clause.
This is the right thing to do. Host countries need to cooperate with Rwanda and the UNHCR to ensure that this situation is addressed accordingly.
For Rwandan refugees out there, it is important that they appreciate the fact that they have a country that is waiting to receive them with open arms, a country they should proudly call home, a new Rwanda that’s free from past discrimination, a country that’s steaming ahead on the development path.
Today, Rwandans have the opportunity to build a country they want to have, and to build their own future without anyone victimising them because of who they are. For many years, that was not the case.
Rwandan refugees have an opportunity to return to a country that loves them – honourably. Why wait until you are declared illegal in a foreign land?