Effective January 1, 2018, Rwandans that fled the country between 1959 and 1998 lost their refugee status after the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) concluded that the conditions that led to their flight were no longer in place and it was safe for them to return to and live in their homeland.
The development, known as Cessation Clause as provided for under the 1951 Refugee Convention, means that the Rwandans in question will no longer be afforded international protection because fundamental, durable and effective changes in Rwanda guarantee that there is no well-founded fear of persecution.
Rwanda started to produce refugees as early as 1959 when thousands of Tutsi fled from the country’s first pogrom, a trend that continued through the 60s, 70s and 80s before the largest flight in 1994 when millions of citizens fled the country at the height of the Genocide against the Tutsi.
Millions of old and new caseload refugees were repatriated in the immediate aftermath of the Genocide, while thousands more returned in subsequent years.
Figures from UNHCR indicate that some 20,000 Rwandans were living as refugees by December last year, with over 84,000 having voluntarily returned home between 2009 to date.
The coming into force of the cessation clause means that the thousands of Rwandans in question need to return home as soon as possible, or regularise their presence in the host country through naturalisation. However, they may also seek to renew their refugee status if they are able to present compelling reasons arising out of past persecution for refusing to avail themselves of protection in their country of nationality.
The invocation of the cessation clause essentially means that the person who has been under international protection as a refugee loses that status and associated material support.
Unless such a person takes steps to legalise their presence in the host country or return home voluntarily, they effectively become illegal migrants and this exposes them and their offspring to many dangers.
Fortunately, the Government of Rwanda has offered the former refugees who are unwilling to return home the option of acquiring the Rwandan passport online so they can regularise their presence wherever they may be.
For those countrymen and women who are yet to make up their mind even after the invocation of the cessation clause, they should make use of this opportunity and protect themselves and their families from consequences that come with being an illegal migrant.
Nonetheless, with the tremendous transformation that Rwanda has undergone socially, economically and politically over the last two decades, no Rwandan should be living as a refugee today.
We appeal to all Rwandans who fled the country because of the past turbulent times to voluntarily return home and join with their compatriots in the noble effort of continuing to better their homeland.