A tripartite meeting that brought together officials from Rwanda, the Republic of Congo and United Nations’ Agency for Refugee Affairs (UNHCR) has resolved to establish a one stop repatriation centre in Congo for Rwandan refugees living there.
The decision was announced at the closure of the meeting in Kigali this week, during which participants examined the Roadmap for the Tripartite Congo-Rwanda-UNHCR Ministerial Meeting of September 8-9, 2016.
The roadmap was laid out in the Republic of Congo as part of the process in the lead up to the invocation of the cessation clause which would end refugee status in the case of Rwandan refugees by December 31, 2017.
Rwanda’s Minister for Disaster Preparedness and Refugee Affairs, Seraphine Mukantabana, told the media that the envisaged one stop repatriation centre would offer relevant services to the Rwandan refugees in the central African country to ensure they are fully aware of the ramifications of their choices ahead of the enforcement of the cessation clause.
“The one stop centre will be a joint effort between UNHCR, the Government of Rwanda (represented by the Rwandan Embassy in the Republic of Congo) and the Brazzaville government,” she said.
The minister said the centre will provide information to the refugees who will be visiting the facility.
For instance, she explained, the refugees will be taken through the process to acquire a Rwandan passport, which they can apply for online and filling in the requisite forms at the Rwandan Embassy.
Mukantabana said the tripartite meeting also agreed to scale up sensitisation programmes in Congolese regions that host Rwandan refugees and to work with non-state actors, such as civil society groups, to reach as many refugees as possible.
“This meeting was basically to take stock of what we had committed to do earlier on.The parties have adopted a new roadmap to fast-track our respective responsibilities,” she said.
The repatriation effort concerns Rwandan refugees who fled the country between 1959 and 1998. There are an estimated 10,000 Rwandan refugees in the Republic of Congo.
The repatriation strategy provides for three options; voluntary repatriation, local integration in the host country as Rwandans and not refugees, and exceptions for those with compelling reasons that qualify them to retain refugee status.
Minister Mukantabana said the repatriation process requires technical and financial support, adding that UNHCR has pledged to mobilise more funds to support the process.
The UNHCR representative to Rwanda, Azam Saber, said the deadline for the cessation of refugee status regarding Rwandan refugees was non-negotiable, insisting there would be no more extension.
“We are ready to receive as many returnees as possible. We have a package to give them immediately and help them reintegrate while there are also long-term reintegration programmes that are being championed by the government and other partners,” he said.
Rwandan refugees who choose to return home have their travel costs covered.
On arrival, each adult is also given $250 and each child $150 to help them in the reintegration effort.
Successful reintegration of former refugees
The representative of UNHCR in Republic of Congo, Cyr Modeste Kouame, said they would step up their collaboration with the government in Brazzaville and other partners in sensitising the Rwandan refugees to return home voluntarily or legitimise their presence in the host country in view of the imminent application of the cession clause.
“We have to double our efforts, both financially and technically, and use all communication channels; the refugees are also welcome to come visit Rwanda on a fact-finding mission before deciding to return.”
Antoinette Dinga-Dzondo, the Minister for Social Affairs, Humanitarian Action and Solidarity in the Republic of Congo, said after he and his delegation visited some of the returnees in Bugesera District, they acquired firsthand experience about how the former refugees were successfully reintegrating in society.
“The returnees are doing well. They are peacefully rebuilding their lives. I appreciate how Rwanda is providing assistance to returnees. Although Rwandan refugees have no problem in Congo, they will feel even better once they are in their own country,” she said.