Countries are set to invoke the cessation clause for Rwandans who fled the country between 1959 and 1998 after the December 31, 2017 deadline passed yesterday.
The cessation clause is part of the 1951 Refugee Convention.
It’s coming into force from January 1, 2018 means Rwandans who fled the country during the years in question lose refugee status and require no more international protection because fundamental and durable changes in their country of origin guarantee that there is no well-founded fear of persecution.
The December 31, 2017 date was arrived at by both UN refugee agency UNHCR, Rwandan government and host countries.
But some have been reluctant to repatriate due to fear of facing justice having participated in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, according to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugees affairs.
Speaking at a recent news conference ahead of yesterday’s deadline; the Minister for Disaster Management and Refugees affairs, De Bonheur Jeanne d’Arc, said the Rwandans will still be allowed to repatriate after the coming into force of the cessation clause but there will be no reintegration packages for them.
Up to 84,596 Rwandans have been repatriated since 2009 and supported to reintegrate in Rwandan society, the ministry said.
78 per cent of them came from the neighbouring DR Congo.
The minister advised those still living outside the country to either repatriate or seek necessary documents to legalise their stay in those countries as Rwandans.
According to UNHCR statistics, more than 20,000 Rwandans were still living as refugees around the world by December.
The cessation clause for Rwandan refugees was declared by the UNHCR on June 30, 2013.
That clause nullifies the refugee status for them, living them with two options of either repatriation or naturalisation as citizens of the host countries.
The ministry explained that government had facilitated Rwandans to obtain necessary documents like passports through its embassies and the online platforms of the Directorate of Immigration and Emigration.
In 2016, 5,781 Rwandans from different countries repatriated while from January, 2017 up to end of last year 14,831 were received.
Those who recently repatriated were helped to get a one year health insurance cover, food package lasting three months, identity cards.
They were also supported to start some small income generating businesses where each adult was given US $250 while each child received US $150.