HARARE – Zimbabwe is preparing to repatriate refugees from Rwanda after the United Nations declared their country of origin safe and peaceful.
According to the Zimbabwean Minister for Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare, Petronella Kagonye, the southern African country has started the legal processes towards the implementation of Cessation Clause that went into force on January 1, 2018.
Minister Kagonye said this on Thursday after meeting with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Robert Tibagwa, in Harare to discuss the refugees’ welfare.
“Among the issues that we were discussing today (Thursday) is the Rwandan Cessation Clause, since the United Nations informed governments that Rwandans can no longer be considered refugees,” Minister Kagonye said.
“As Zimbabwe, we are in the process of finalising the legal processes of declaring that cessation. The Declaration was with effect from the 31st of December 2017, we have three months left to finalise the processes.”
The United Nations invoked the Cessation Clause which declares Rwanda safe for Rwandan refugees across the world to return.
Under the Cessation Clause, United Nations member states hosting Rwandan refugees have to comply with the declaration.
The Cessation Clause for Rwandan refugees was declared by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees on June 30, 2013.
That clause applies to those who fled between 1959 and December 1998.
Almost 564 Rwandan refugees are residing at Tongogara Refugee Camp, about 500 kilometres south east of Harare, while more, believed to be in their thousands, are scattered across the country with others having integrated into communities.
Others are believed to have melted into South Africa as the implementation of the Cessation Clause drew closer.
Some of the refugees were tried in absentia and convicted by the Gacaca semi-traditional courts for their role in the Genocide against the Tutsi in 1994 in Rwanda, while others are fugitives yet to be put on trial.
This group, according to previous testimonies from different refugees, has played a key role in discouraging the repatriation process, for they fear being brought to account for their crimes.
They have instilled fear in some of these refugees feeding them lies that they would be persecuted once they repatriate.
According to the Zimbabwean minister, some of the refugees have lived in the country for more than 17 years, while others had since married Zimbabweans.
“As a ministry, we are currently profiling the Rwandan refugees to find out how many would want to go back, and those who have already been fully absorbed into the community, so that we can naturalise them and they can become Zimbabwean citizens,” she said.
She expressed concern over the increase in the number of refugees in the country, which she said had the potential to put pressure on available resources to cater for their welfare.