A group of visiting Rwandan refugees has cited prolonged clearance procedures by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHRC) among the factors undermining repatriation efforts.
They are urging the UNHCR to ease the process of clearance to enable more people still living in camps in various countries to return home.
Celestin Soter Hakizimana, Asnath Mukanteri, from Niger and Desire Rugira, from Uganda, were speaking at a news briefing in Kigali this week.
Responding to journalists’ questions, all the returnees cited lack of appropriate information, travel documents and negative propaganda by ‘hard core’ refugees who fear to return to answer for crimes committed before they fled the country, among the challenges hindering the repatriation process. Rugira, who has lived in Uganda for 15 years, said he had finally made up his mind to repatriate.
The trio were invited by the Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs (Midimar) to participate in the National Dialogue (Umushyikirano) under the ministry’s programme dubbed “come-and-see go-and-tell,” meant to promote voluntary repatriation.
Rugira said he fled Rwanda on ‘false claims’ in order to be granted refugee status but now believes it was a misguided idea that he regrets.
“Rwanda has developed in various domains. People are living happily while we still depend on humanitarian aid in foreign countries. I have decided to return and I will encourage other refugees to change their perception and return home,” he said.
Mukanteri and Hakizimana left Rwanda 20 years ago and have lived in Niger as refugees for 17 years. Mukanteri is married with five children. She arrived in Niger after living in Bukavu in DR Congo and Kenya.
She said most of their efforts to repatriate were always frustrated by lack of travel documents because there is no Rwanda diplomatic representation in Niger.
“We can visit several countries except our native country. Now I have a master’s degree in project management. I would be very happy if the projects I have managed in Niger were run in Rwanda and also make an impact on development,” Mukanteri said.
The Minister for Disaster Preparedness and Refugee Affairs, Seraphine Mukantabana, said more efforts will be put in awareness campaigns to enable more refugees to return and be reintegrated.
Ever since the Cessation Clause came into force, which ended refugee status for Rwandans in June last year, 27,500 refugees have voluntarily repatriated from 1994 to date, 3,456,190 have been repatriated.
“We shall employ various initiatives to ensure voluntary repatriation of all Rwandan refugees,” said the minister.
The Cessation Clause, which applies to those who fled the country between 1959 and December 1998, was invoked after concluding that there was no reason for any Rwandan to remain in refuge.
The minister said platforms were put in place to help refugees who want to repatriate, including communication facilities (on toll free line 170), and paying air tickets for those to repatriate.
Martina Pomeroy, the External Relations Officer UNHCR Rwanda, said the refugee agency follows clear procedures to facilitate access to travel documents for refugees wishing to return whether for the “go-and-see” visit or for definitive return.
“We collaborated with the Rwandan government to facilitate participation of some Rwandan refugee representatives in the National Dialogue 2014 by accelerating the procedure to obtain passports throughout Africa,” she said.
As part of the implementation of the Cessation Clause, Rwanda also supports local integration by facilitating former refugees to acquire national passports to enable them legally stay in their host countries.