Rwandans living in foreign countries as refugees will lose that status at the end of next year and should use the remaining time to plan their relocation or get proper documentation from their host countries.
The announcement was jointly made, yesterday, by the Minister for Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs, Seraphine Mukantabana, and Saber Azam, the country representative for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).
They were speaking at a news conference in Kigali held to highlight key achievements made in 2016 in line with protecting refugees who live in Rwanda as well as progress towards helping former Rwandan refugees who return home.
The officials warned Rwandan refugees in different countries across the world that they won’t be considered as refugees any more by December 31, 2017, and should tap into the available resources earmarked by UNHCR and the government to support returnees.
“By December 31, 2017, any Rwandan who won’t be home will not be considered as a refugee and neither the Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs (MIDIMAR) nor UNHCR will afford to help them repatriate after that date,” Mukantabana said.
In addition to providing transport, Rwandan refugees who come back home receive a financial resettlement packages, with children getting $150 while adults receive $250.
The money is given through UNHCR and the government continues to help the returnees settle back home just like it helps any other needy Rwandan.
Both the travel facilitation and the resettlement allowance won’t be available for those who will miss the December 31, 2017, deadline, officials warned.
“The situation in Rwanda at the moment is perfect. Refugees should come back home. There won’t be postponement of the cessation clause,” Azam said.
Under the international agreement to phase out refugee status for Rwandans, commonly known as Cessation Clause, Rwandans who live abroad as refugees have until the end of next year to either come home or settle in their host countries as residents or citizens.
They will also have to re-apply for a new refugee status if they want to remain refugees, which means that governments in host countries will have to consider their applications and re-admit them as refugees or not.
As a result of implementing the cessation clause, UNHCR officials have estimated that about 30,000 Rwandan former refugees will be coming back home by the end of next year.
MIDIMAR officials estimate that about 280,000 Rwandans could be still living as refugees across 20 countries in the world with a large number, estimated at 245,000, believed to be in the DR Congo.
The majority of current Rwandan refugees left the country as a result of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi and some 3.4 million citizens have since been repatriated back to Rwanda.
Meanwhile, UNHCR and MIDIMAR officials yesterday reiterated commitment to keep working together to help some 160,000 refugees hosted by the country, mostly Burundian and Congolese people who were forced out of their homes by war and conflicts.
“The rights to protection and easy access to basic facilities for approximately 160,000 refugees hosted in Rwanda is possible due to the continued collaboration between the Government of Rwanda and UNHCR with our partners,” Mukantabana said, also promising to continue initiatives that improve the refugees’ lives.
The Government of Rwanda has made commitments to include refugees in the socio-economic structure of the country, allowing them access to jobs, education, as well as healthcare.
“The commitments made by Rwanda will help refugees who have been living in camps in Rwanda for 20 years to move out of dependence on humanitarian assistance towards lives of self-reliance in which they are boosting the economies of their hosting areas,” Azam said.
Interventions to help refugees in Rwanda are coordinated by MIDIMAR and the UNHCR working together with other UN agencies and non-governmental organisations.