Countries hosting Rwandan refugees who fled the country before December 31, 1998 have committed to implementing an earlier agreed upon strategy that will see no Rwandan living abroad as a refugee by December 31, 2017. This was agreed as ministerial delegations from the main countries that host Rwandan refugees and Rwanda met last Friday at UNHCR Headquarters in Geneva. The meeting was convened to discuss the state of implementation of the Comprehensive Solutions Strategy for Rwandan Refugees and to review key issues and the way forward in bringing the strategy to its conclusion. “They reconfirm their commitment to bring proper closure to the situation of Rwandan refugees who fled their country before 31 December 1998 and to secure appropriate durable solutions for them,” reads part of a joint communiqué from the meeting, which was a follow up of a similar session held in Pretoria, South Africa in April 2013. The main countries hosting Rwandan refugees include Angola, Burundi, Cameroon, the DR Congo, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia, the Republic of the Congo and Zimbabwe. It was noted that the meeting recognised that States are at different stages of implementation of the Comprehensive Solutions Strategy, and the need to adopt a differentiated approach in this regard. “The Participants commit to implement its main elements and to bring the strategy to its conclusion as soon as possible, but no later than December 31, 2017.” The statement says the UNHCR will “no longer be in a position to operationally support this population after December 2017,” except to finalise any remaining jointly-agreed upon activities. On voluntary repatriation, it was noted that taking into account efforts to promote voluntary repatriation since the Comprehensive Solutions Strategy was adopted. Participants agreed that organised returns shall come to a close by December 31, 2016. “Prior to that date, the participants will intensify dialogue with Rwandan refugees on the opportunities to benefit from organised voluntary repatriation, including through sensitisation campaigns, and to ensure that refugees are able to make free and informed decisions as to return.” Participants pledged to identify all affected refugees before the end of January 2016, with a view to identifying appropriate solutions, unless there are exceptional operational constraints. The Government of Rwanda will take all necessary measures to ensure the safe and dignified return and reintegration of all refugees, the statement adds. On the other hand, it is indicated that on local integration, countries hosting the refugees commited to intensify efforts to facilitate local integration opportunities for those who wish to remain in the country of asylum. The participants also committed to explore the acquisition of an alternative legal status by waiving or reducing related fees and easing administrative requirements while the Government of Rwanda committed to furnish national passports to those refugees who require them, in accordance with the law. “The participants recognise the need to prevent former refugees from being left without a legal status and or becoming at risk of statelessness and agree to take all possible measures, including exploring the acquisition of citizenship, to avoid such an outcome,” they said in the statement. Exemption Officials at the Geneva meeting also reaffirmed the need to avoid large-scale exemption procedures to the extent possible by identifying alternative solutions for refugees. They called on the UNHCR to assist States to develop and implement fair and efficient exemption procedures. “The Participants recognised that for those persons who are determined to no longer be in need of international protection, a transitional phase will be applied, ending no later than 31 December 2017, during which time durable solutions will be vigorously pursued and assistance gradually phased out.” The meeting recognised that for those persons found still to be in need of international protection as refugees, such protection will continue to be provided as durable solutions are pursued. Kigali continues to urge the UNHCR to revitalise the implementation of the Cessation Clause, which applies to those who fled the country between 1959 and December 1998. The Cessation Clause on Rwandan refugees, adopted in 2013, was invoked after it was concluded that there is no reason for any Rwandan to remain in refuge and, the government has invested a lot of resources to promote voluntary repatriation. From 1994 to date, more than three million Rwandans have been repatriated. UNHCR latest Global trend report says that at the end of 2014 Rwandan refugees remaining in exile were 79, 411.