Former refugees start new life, hope for better future

WHEN SIMON SINGIRANKABO returned to Rwanda from DR Congo last year, he had no idea what his future life would look like. Having spent close to 20 years in the remote Kasai Oriental province, he thought he was condemned to the pain of exile for the rest of his life.
Singirankabo poses for a photo with his two wives and children repatriated last year. (Jean Pierre Bucyensenge)
Singirankabo poses for a photo with his two wives and children repatriated last year. (Jean Pierre Bucyensenge)

WHEN SIMON SINGIRANKABO returned to Rwanda from DR Congo last year, he had no idea what his future life would look like.

Having spent close to 20 years in the remote Kasai Oriental province, he thought he was condemned to the pain of exile for the rest of his life.

In addition, having been fed on the lies that anyone who returns to Rwanda is either killed or thrown into prison for the rest of their lives, Singirankabo thought returning to his motherland was a suicide mission.

“But what I found after crossing the border was totally different from what I used to hear while we lived in the bushes,” he says.

“Rwanda is the safest country I have ever lived in, and there is no discrimination. Actually, there is that freedom to live as you wish and everyone has an opportunity to work for their welfare,” Singirankabo notes.

Returnees have constantly spoken of a campaign of misinformation mainly among those still trapped in the neighbouring DR Congo. The lack of access to national media outlets or any other source of actual information complicates efforts to access credible information about the state of the nation and prevents some from returning home.

Difficult beginning

Singirankabo fled the country at the height of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi that claimed the lives of over a million people in just about a hundred days.

Together with thousands of others, including his relatives, he trekked kilometres into eastern Congo where they settled in camps.

When a wave of refugees returned to the country in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Singirankabo remained trapped in the jungles, spending almost 19 years before deciding to come back to his motherland.

While a refugee, he married two wives with whom he has 11 children.

But life in the jungles started becoming unbearable for his family, prompting him to take the decision to repatriate.

That was August 2013 when he crossed the Rwanda-Congo border and was received in the north-western district of Rubavu.

He currently lives in Gahinga Cell, Mururu Sector in the south-western district of Rusizi.

In the beginning, he recalls, starting a new life was extremely difficult as he was building almost from nothing.

“Having fled the country at a tender age, I had no property to return to here,” he says. “While a refugee, I made no fortune and had no chance to build a better future. So it was almost building from scratch.”

But a year after his return, Singirankabo says his life has significantly improved although he still faces some challenges. The man earns a living by working for daily wages to support his large family.

“I am physically strong, and I can work to meet the basic needs of my family,” he says. “At least here I have a chance to work and no one ever bothers me or unlawfully takes my property.”

But Singirankabo has no roof on his head. 

“If I had a house, my living conditions would improve significantly,” he says.

Support

The Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs (Midimar) has been extending support to returnees to help them reintegrate in the community and start a new life after spending painful years in exile.

Singirankabo was among dozens of who turned up last week for identification and needs assessment session in Rusizi District.

The exercise, being carried out in Rusizi, Nyamasheke, Karongi, Ngororero and Rutsiro districts, will pave way for support, officials said.

This activity is implemented through the “Sustainable Return and Reintegration project,” a joint programme between the Government of Rwanda and One-UN, officially launched in 2012. 

It aims at enhancing socio-economic reintegration of returnees by providing support in the areas of shelter, health, education, food security and agriculture, governance and justice.

The first phase of the project has been operational since October 2013 in five Districts, including Bugesera, Musanze, Nyabihu, Nyamagabe and Rubavu.

During the first phase, 1,113 beneficiaries were assisted, including 577 students who received scholastic materials support, 185 residents who received iron sheets, while another 481 received livestock.

Singirankabo has hopes that under the project he will be able to have a decent and enough house for his family and moving toward a brighter future.

Other refugees who spoke to this paper also expressed the same feelings of optimism.

Maria Mukankusi, a mother of seven refugees who repatriated in 2012, says all point to a better future, thanks to good policies, government support and the prevailing peace and security in the country.

The government says it has taken all measures to help with the reintegration of returnees.

“All Rwandans have a right to live in their country. So the government has initiated all necessary mechanisms and programmes for a smooth repatriation and sustainable reintegration of returnees,” Seraphine Mukantabana, the minister for disaster management and refugee affairs, said.

Last year, a cessation clause for all Rwandan refugees came into force. Since June 30, 2013 when the clause came into effect, more than 7000 refugees have repatriated, according to Midimar figures.

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