Ex-Refugee leader returns from exile

The leader of the Rwandan Refugees Community in Congo-Brazzaville, Seraphine Mukantabana, yesterday voluntarily returned home. She recently resigned from her position and also gave up her refugee status.
 Serafina Mukantabana (2nd Right) who voluntarily returned from Congo Brazzaville along with relatives and friends on arrival at the airport yesterday. The New Times John Mbanda
Serafina Mukantabana (2nd Right) who voluntarily returned from Congo Brazzaville along with relatives and friends on arrival at the airport yesterday. The New Times John Mbanda

The leader of the Rwandan Refugees Community in Congo-Brazzaville, Seraphine Mukantabana, yesterday voluntarily returned home.

She recently resigned from her position and also gave up her refugee status.

At around 12 .35 PM, Mukantabana, along with two other families, landed at the Kigali International Airport, where they were welcomed by various people, mostly those who had returned earlier from Congo-Brazzaville, including Michel Nzariturande, the former driver of former President Juvenal Habyarimana.

Mukantabana has been over the leader of the refugee community since 1997. Reports indicated that she was instrumental in the creation of the Rwandan rebel organization, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) in 2000.

Addressing reporters upon landing at the airport, Mukantabana, a former secondary school teacher, noted that she had spent 17 years as a refugee since she departed in 1994 but had gained nothing.

“I left Rwanda in 1994 when the country was politically unstable and I only realised recently that I had to come back because the country is now secure. There is no need of being a refugee,” she said.

“I cried with happiness when I landed at the airport. A refugee is ever suffering. You can have money and all the riches, but you will never get the satisfaction one gets while at home,” she added.

She observed that the government’s sensitisation campaigns to refugees and reading and listening to news about the current situation at home inspired her to voluntarily repatriate. She added that the government needs to extend more campaigns to coax the remaining refugees to come back home.

The excited returnee further acknowledged that to be issued Congo-Brazzaville nationality , one needs to be financially sound. She noted that the majority of the refugees in Congo were living pitiable lives, saying that the government’s move to reintegrate and support them would persuade them to repatriate. 

She said that her husband was supposed to accompany her, but because their children were sitting for exams, they would come later.

She dismissed claims that the cessation clause had forced her to return home, insisting that this was a voluntary initiative.

The clause, under the UNHCR system, does not allow claims for refugee status after verification by the agency that there are no conditions in the country of origin that qualify for UN protection.

However, the declaration of the clause does not prevent individuals applying for refugee status and in this case; the recipient country will have to analyse individual cases that may warrant the continuation of international protection. 

Nzariturande disclosed to The New Times that since his repatriation, the government had assisted him in reintegrating and he currently lives in peace like other nationals.

“It is now one year since I left Congo Brazzaville; before coming, my colleagues were misleading me that I would be arrested upon arrival, but now look at me, I am enjoying all the national benefits like other citizens,” he said. 

 The Director General in charge of Refugees Affairs in the Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs, Jean Claude Rwahama, welcomed the returnees saying that their move would make a big impact on the remaining refugees in Congo-Brazzaville

“It’s a good initiative for the leader of the refugees to return home. It will make a huge impact on those left behind. We do not want our people to continue suffering as refugees, we need them to repatriate so that, together, we build the country,” he said.

Refugees continue to repatriate voluntarily. This week, about 350 from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, and Malawi returned home.

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