All refugees living in Rwanda will soon be allowed to freely travel beyond the country’s borders thanks to a recent government decision to issue them with a new travel document that meets international standards.
The Machine Readable Refugee Convention Travel Documents (MRCTD) will facilitate refugees to travel abroad for business, education and other opportunities, thereby impacting their lives positively, according to both government and UNCHR.
Jean-Claude Rwahama, the Director of Refugee Affairs Unit at the Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugees affairs, said the travel document will be issued by the Directorate General of Immigration and Emigration, the government’s agency in charge of issuing such travel documents.
“One of the fundamental rights of refugees is the right to free movement in different countries except their country of origin. MRCTD will enable the refugees in Rwanda to do so,” he told The New Times.
Presently, he said, refugees in Rwanda use a document called ‘Titre de Voyage’ to travel.
Yves Butera, the spokesperson of Directorate General of Immigration and Emigration, said they are “still working on modalities to issue the new refugee travel document,” which he said meets International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) standards.
UNHCR figures showed that Rwanda was home to more than 173,300 refugees – mostly from neighbours DR Congo and Burundi – as of December 31, 2017.
Immaculate Hunja, the vice president of the community of urban refugees in Rwanda, welcomed the government’s decision to issue them with the new travel document, saying it will unlock many opportunities for the refugee communities in the country.
“We haven’t received it yet but are happy this is happening. It is something we have requested for two years now. I hope the process (of issuance) is expedited,” she said. “Many refugees, especially those in urban areas are skilled and can work anywhere to earn a living.’
Hunja said the travel document will enhance refugees’ chances of getting employed.
She said that the current arrangement where the UN refugee agency issues the refugees in Rwanda with non-biometric travel documents is inefficient because it takes long for one to get their travel document.
“UNHCR takes long and issues a limited number of documents. We hope the Government’s process will be better and faster as to benefit as many refugees as possible,” she told this newspaper.
Machine-readable travel documents, it is believed, have concrete benefits for refugees as well as for stateless persons, such as allowing holders to take up opportunities for resettlement and voluntary repatriation and enabling them to access opportunities provided through complementary pathways for admission to other countries.
In an email sent to The New Times, Daniela Ionita, the External Relations Officer at the UNHCR Office in Kigali, said: “UNHCR is very pleased” with the Government’s move to issue Machine Readable Refugee Convention Travel Documents, which, she said, is in line with the 1951 Refugee Convention under which refugees have the right to a travel document issued by their country of asylum.
Just as for travel documents issued to nationals, Ionita said, the same global standards for the issuance of international travel documents (as established by ICAO) are to be applied to travel documents issued to refugees.
She said machine readable travel documents have been mandatory for international travel since November 2015.
The UN agency official also said that UNHCR will support the Government to ensure that refugees in Rwanda access the machine readable document accordingly.
“The major objective of issuing MRCTDs is to facilitate and enhance travel, consistent with ICAO standards, of all refugees and other persons of concern to UNHCR.”
She said UNHCR has until now and, as an interim measure for the most urgent cases, been issuing Convention Travel Documents for refugees who needed to travel outside Rwanda for education, family reunification, health, work, or other urgent reasons.
“Enabling refugees to travel is important for their self-reliance and reducing their dependency; many refugees have performed well in school and receive scholarships to attend university abroad, but require MRCTDs in order to be able to take advantage of the opportunity.”
Similarly, she added, some refugees have the opportunity to grow their business or improve their capacity by traveling abroad for work or training, and issuance of machine readable documents will ensure refugees are not left behind in such opportunities.