The Government of Rwanda is prepared to receive Rwandans living as refugees around the world, to enable them beat the nearing deadline of the Cessation Clause.
In 2009, The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) announced a comprehensive solutions strategy to bring to a proper closure the Rwandan refugee situation. Since then, the UNHCR engaged relevant stakeholders including countries of asylum, country of origin and refugees themselves to find suitable solutions leading to effective implementation of this strategy. The Cessation Clause was invoked after a comprehensive assessment conducted by the UNHCR and host countries revealed that all circumstances which led to massive exile of Rwandans had ceased and there was no reason for any Rwandan to hold refugee status. The deadline of implementation of the Cessation Clause is 31st December 2017.
The Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugees (MIDMAR) and UNHCR are working together to ensure seamless reintegration of returnees and, as well, ensuring their welfare as the time-bound program to implement the Cessation Clause for Rwandan Refugees implementation comes to an end this year. The Cessation Cause, concerns all Rwandan refugees who fled the country between 1959 and 1998 due to insecurity reasons.
“The Comprehensive Solutions Strategy for Rwandan Refugees provides three options which are, voluntary repatriation, local integration in the host country as Rwandans and not refugees. and thirdly, exceptions for those with pertinent reasons to remain with refugee status. However, the most important option is to return home and benefit from opportunities in our country,” says Hon. Mukantabana Seraphine, Minister of Disaster Management and Refugees.
So far, the Minister indicates that since the cessation clause implementation was launched, over 5,000 former Rwandan refugees have returned home and more are expected as the deadline nears.
“We have also supported those that have preferred to remain in their host countries as Rwandans through assisting them acquire the desirable documentation in order to process permanent residence in the host country. Most of these are in countries like Cameroun, Zambia, Congo Brazzaville and Uganda,” she added.
MIDMAR has set up programs such as the Ngwino urebe, ugende ubwire abandi initiative (Come and see, go and tell) where refugees are facilitated to visit the country and their families; and thereafter return to their host countries in order to share what they have learnt about Rwanda and thus make informed decisions on returning. They are encouraged to share information about what they have learnt in Rwanda, with their families and friends in the Rwandan refugee communities.
One of the strategies put in place was the tripartite meetings between the country of origin, refugee host countries and UNHCR, to fast track the three components of the Cessation Clause.
Hon. Mukantabana reassures refugees that the Government partnering with UN agencies, will continue to support returnees to reintegrate and participate in the development of Rwanda as any other Rwandans.
Rwandan refugees that choose to return home, have their travel costs facilitated and since October 1st, 2016, financial resettlement package for returnees has been increased from $100 to $250 and $50 to $150 for adults and children respectively. This is supported by the UNHCR repatriation initiative.
The Ministry coordinates other social and reintegration programs with support of UN agencies (One UN) for returnees to easily reintegrate back into the Rwandan communities. 115 residential houses for the very vulnerable have been constructed while building materials such as iron sheets have also been distributed to returning Rwandans for construction of houses.
Besides shelter, returnees receive health insurance, domestic animals, and improved seeds for planting as well as being taught technical skills. In 2015, 782 returning youth across the country were trained in technical vocational skills.
The returnees also benefit from social support programs such as Girinka (one cow per family), VUP, education support and others depending on Ubudehe categories in which they are classified upon resettlement.
Cessation Clause Deadline non-negotiable
According to Mr. Azam Saber, UNHCR Country Representative, there is no need for Rwandans to live out of their country as refugees.
He says, “The Cessation Clause date is non-negotiable, meaning as of 1st January, 2018, the refugee status of Rwandan refugees will cease. We are calling on Rwandan refugees to make a decision.”
“Rwanda is not only beautiful, it is safe and it is their country,” added Mr Azam.
Rwandans that seek to remain in the host countries will be facilitated to acquire passports and settle in these countries.
According to the UNHCR Representative, the hesitance of some of the Rwandan refugees to return home is based on misinformation among the refugees about what is taking place in their country. “Rwandans are living in harmony. We would like to close the chapter of Rwandan refugees abroad and to the best of our knowledge and observations, there is no need for those people to remain refugees,” he continued.
Mr. Azam emphasises the options they have as returning home or locally integrate upon receiving all identification documents provided by the Government of Rwanda.
In order to avoid double-registration of returnees in the repatriation program so as to benefit from the support more than once, MIDIMAR is working with other government institutions such as the National Identification Agency (NIDA) and the Rwanda Directorate General of Immigration and Emigration, to ensure that fraudulent receipt of support doesn’t occur.
UNHCR says there is still a challenge with host countries that have not yet registered all refugees, making it difficult to establish the exact numbers of expected returnees.
Returnees appreciate support
Various returnees have testified about how their lives have improved since they repatriated. Immaculee Mukarugomwa from Kanzenze sector, Rubavu district is a mother of six, who voluntarily returned from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). She has used her repatriation package to support herself and her family through profit generating activities. Immaculate was living in dire conditions in isolated jungles of DRC where she had never enjoyed peace or basic social services.
She says when she returned in 2011, she was provided with iron sheets and made the decision to travel back to DRC in order to return with her husband after having established the reality in her home country.
“My health was failing, my life was miserable. I returned home in clothes that could pass for rugs. When I came, I was provided with one pig that has so far gone on to reproduce that I have over 20 pigs. The cow provided under one cow per family program has produced more four cows, 80 kg of irish potatoes seeds provided by MIDIMAR helped us to embrace agriculture projects,” she says.
Mukarugomwa says, she has sold some calves to buy more pieces of land for agriculture.
“We borrowed Rwf400, 000 from SACCO. One part was spent on agriculture projects and the other for businesses. We were also trained in tailoring from which skills I learnt are used to generate an income. We also sell organic manure. We sell a truck of manure from pigs at Rwf45, 000 which contributes to the family monthly income.”
With the initial support from MIDIMAR, Mukarugomwa, with an elegant aura of pride says her family wealth is currently worth over Rwf40m.
Because of these successes, she got encouraged to mobilize over 100 refugees to come back.
“I urge those who are still refugees to just look at how successful we have been, see how our life is different from how we lived in DRC.”
Her husband, Modeste Kazanenda, an ex-combatant with FDLR testifies that he was also trained in tailoring and got provided with tool kits.
The couple, which was provided with 42 iron sheets, later bought others and are currently erecting a house of 102 iron sheets.
MIDMAR and UNHCR identified the most vulnerable and built well-equipped houses for them.
“I used to live in a grass-thatched house in DRC. I could not sleep. But when I returned to Rwanda I was taken care of and offered food supplies for three months. I was trained tailoring skills, given a sewing machine and Rwf60, 000. That started me off,” says Louise Nyirarukundo who repatriated in 2013 from DRC
‘It was great relief when I got this beautiful house that I had never dreamt of. I was also provided with sheep, which has since produced three lambs, got Irish potato seeds, fertilizers and got two years health insurance. I thank President Paul Kagame for all the support,” she narrates.
She says with money earned from tailoring, she is leasing a piece of land for agriculture and all her children are attending school. She is targeting to set up a shop near her residence. Nyirarukundo also managed to convince her brother to also return home.
Another returnee, Emmanuel Nizeyimana with his wife returned in 2012 and got iron sheets from MIDMAR.
“I encourage those who are still living as refugees to come back home; we are secure which is different from rumours in the jungles that Rwanda is not safe,” he urges.
Olivier Hitimana from Mudende sector, Rubavu District acquired welding skills upon return and has used these to uplift his life.
“I was trained for six months and got tool kits which helped I used to start welding business I currently have,” he says.
He says he earns about Rwf5, 000 per day from welding, from Rwf700 he used to earn from working for others before he got the technical skills.
He currently owns four pigs and leased a piece of land where he can harvest 100 kg of beans per season.
“The Rwandan refugees delaying to return home are missing out on the fruits of the country’s rapid transformation. They should return. All is well,” he assures.
The Government’s goal is to ensure that all Rwandans live a dignified life and thus encourages the Rwandan refugees abroad to make informed decisions from the options offered by the Government and UNHCR