RUSIZI- 21-year old Stratton Niyitegeka is one of the 73 returnees received at the Nyagatare transit camp, Rusizi, on May 6, 2011.
Prior to his return, Niyitegeka spent his days in the vast forests of the DR Congo, hiding from the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR) rebels who wanted to recruit every young male.
“I was in Primary six but left school to hide. Even now, many of my peers sneak from their homes during the night and head back to the bush. They want to be in school but circumstances don’t allow,” Niyitegeka says.
Apart from being forcefully recruited in the rebel force, Niyitegeka cites cases of violence occasioned to Rwandan refugees in Warikare, Eastern Congo, where he was resident.
“We also lived in very poor conditions in D.R. Congo. Thank God we are at home,” adds Madalene Musabyimana, 40.
Meanwhile, many false doctrines hinder Rwandans to return home.
“We were told that there is no security in Rwanda. That we would often fall victims to violence and no one would follow up on our problems,” says Clementine Uwera, another returnee.
“FDLR officials told us that Rwanda has recorders, everything we say is kept for the record. Incase someone falls out with his family, prison was the next destination,” says Niyitegeka.
As the returnees get repatriated, they have realised that anecdotes about Rwanda was nothing but falsehood.
“Since I arrived, I have seen hospitality I had not seen for years. People at this camp are welcoming and friendly.
Even the efforts to take us home show how caring the government is. If I knew earlier, I would be far, in terms of development,” says Musabyimana.
According to Bernadette Uwimana, Assistant Social Affairs Officer at the Nyagatare transit camp, the returnees are facilitated to reunite with their families.
“We now take them to their home sectors, which makes it easier for them to reunite with their families,” says Uwimana.
In 2010, around 31,000 refugee returnees from DRC passed through the Nyagatare camp. Since January, the camp received around 700 returnees.
According to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs, a total of 70,000 Rwandan refugees live in different countries, mainly in the DRC.
The Ministry has put up mechanisms to voluntarily repatriate Rwandans living abroad before the end of their refugee status ends by December 31, 2011.