Bye-bye refugees

Rwanda has had its share of bad news in the past. Now, in a growing trend, it is getting its deserved share of good news. The latest report of good tidings is the declaration by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) that by the end of this year there will be no Rwandan refugees anywhere in the world.

Rwanda has had its share of bad news in the past. Now, in a growing trend, it is getting its deserved share of good news.

The latest report of good tidings is the declaration by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) that by the end of this year there will be no Rwandan refugees anywhere in the world.

The UN body “certified” Rwanda as stable and peaceful, and therefore saw no reason why Rwandan refugees should fear to return.

The UNHCR has finally acknowledged what the government of Rwanda has been saying all along – that there is peace and stability in the country and that it is safe for all refugees to return home.

Of course, there will be those who will feel threatened by this good news. I can already hear howls of protest from the criminals masquerading as refugees.

Traitors, thieves and a motley collection of individuals who are a heavy burden on the generosity of others are bound to join the cry about how untrue the reported stability is.

I am certain the smartly dressed, educated and eloquent beggars have started spinning a yarn about how the UNHCR is abdicating its responsibility under threat from the government in Rwanda. I have never understood how much power the government wields to intimidate powerful international organisations and foreign governments.

All these groups will do all in their devious means to discredit the statement by the UNHCR. We can therefore expect renewed vicious attacks on the leadership of this country.

Ordinarily reports that a country will no longer have its citizens fleeing its territory to live elsewhere as refugees should not be such big news. After all it is normal for governments to ensure that all their citizens enjoy such conditions as will make flight unthinkable.

But this has not been the case in Rwanda for the greater part of our post-independence history. Indeed there was time when rulers of this country (for that’s what they were) took pride in exporting refugees to neighbouring countries and ensuring that they did not return.

They spent huge sums of money and effort to convince foreign countries and international humanitarian organisations that it was in the best interests of refugees to remain where they were and if possible, integrate into the local communities of host countries. For long this was the primary duty of embassies in countries neighbouring Rwanda.

Worse, they held Rwandans in the country hostage to their twisted sense of right to nationality by making them believe that the return of refugees was a threat to them individually and collectively.

And so for thirty four years Rwanda’s annual export of refugees continued to grow. And once out of the country, they remained permanently exiled.

Compare that time with what is happening now. The contrast could not be starker. Where previous governments enjoyed creating refugees, the present one takes pride in ensuring that conditions for their creation do not exist; and where they have been created to repatriating them.

Even when the state was still fragile, immediately after the genocide in 1994, and there were many unrepentant killers among the refugees, it still encouraged them to return. It placed the dignity of Rwandans that they derive from living in their homeland before everything else.

In the years since, the government has regularly sent delegations to countries hosting Rwandan refugees. They went into the camps and urged them to repatriate. The refugees were assured of their safety and regaining their property. Indeed right to property was not dependent on return. Many of the refugees living in diverse countries routinely collect rent from houses and other commercial properties in Rwanda.

Such missions routinely went to Uganda, Malawi, Zambia, Congo Brazzaville and Europe.

The results have been good. More than 3.5 million refugees have returned home in the last sixteen years. Even armed rebels have given up rebellion and returned.

It is not only in regard to refugees that the government has shown that the life and security of every Rwanda is valued and must be protected. In the unstable political situation in North Africa caused by mass protests every effort was made to ensure that no harm came to any Rwandan living there. They were all safely evacuated.

With all this happening, it does not come as a surprise that the UNHCR should declare that there will be no more Rwandan refugees by the end of the year. The only surprise is that it took so long to recognise that Rwanda is stable and peaceful. But again we also understand that it is in the nature of UN agencies to turn ever so slowly –perhaps under the weight of their own bureaucracies or from a reluctance to give up their mandate. But turn it has finally.

It is now left to the traditional bashers of Rwanda – whether out of hatred, envy or selfishness – to recognise that they have no argument left against this country (they never had any in the first place).

It would be good for them to repent, confess and be absolved of their sins. As they should know by now (only they choose not to) we are a forgiving nation. And we keep no grudge.

jorwagatare@yahoo.co.uk

 

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