Ugandan State Minister in charge of Disaster Preparedness and Refugee Affairs, Musa Echweru, has noted that Rwanda has gained stability since 1994, adding that the country is now safe and all refugees ought to repatriate.
The Minister made the remarks while speaking to journalists on the sidelines of the Ninth Tripartite meeting between Uganda, Rwanda and the UNHCR.
The three parties discussed the return and reintegration of Rwandan refugees still residing in various parts of Uganda.
Uganda is home to over 16,000 Rwandan refugees, mainly in the camps of Nakivale, Kiryandongo, Kyangwari and Kyaka, all in western Uganda and Oruchinga camp in the southern part.
Others are within the Ugandan capital, Kampala.
“We are aware that conditions in Rwanda are conducive for the safety of the refugees. We acknowledge the positive, democratic and peaceful changes in Rwanda since 1994. It’s therefore clear that these people can return to Rwanda in safety and dignity,” said Ecweru.
Asked about the fate of refugees who fail to return after the invocation of the cessation clause, the state minister called upon all the stakeholders to develop an action plan for the possible standoff.
He, however, added that more efforts were needed to sensitise the refugees to return voluntarily to avoid such a situation.
“As we approach the proposed cessation clause time, we need to develop concrete action plans together to deal with refugees that may not return. But before this, we should do more to promote their return as it is the most durable solution,” he said.
The clause, under the UNHCR system, stipulates that no Rwandan living abroad will qualify for refugee status after 31 December 2011. It 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.
Echweru further slammed claims by some human rights groups that Uganda is trying to forcefully repatriate Rwandan refugees, emphasising that repatriation is voluntary.
Officially opening the two-day meeting, the Minister in charge of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs, Gen. Marcel Gatsinzi, said that government is ready to welcome all the refugees and ensure their reintegration.
“The government is ready to welcome and assist all the returnees. Various transit centres have been established to receive returnees before being transported to their respective places of origin for reintegration,” the minister said.
Upon return and reintegration in their areas of origins, refugees are considered priority beneficiaries to such government programs as the one cow per family and the communal health insurance (Mutuelle de santé).
Gatsinzi however urged technical experts in the meeting to work hard to come up with a consensus on the repatriation mechanisms to be used in solving all the matters concerning Rwandan refugees living in Uganda.
UNHCR country representative, Neimah Warsame, informed the gathering that the UN agency will continue to put in place all the necessary strategies to ensure that the Rwandan refugee situation comes to an end.
“UNHCR remains fully committed to this comprehensive strategy which is aimed at bringing to a close the Rwandan refugees situation in its entirety,” she said.
“I also wish to inform you that in the past several months, UNHCR-Geneva has undertaken extensive reviews to ascertain the practical modalities of how best to take forward the comprehensive strategy for Rwandan refugees,” said the UNHCR chief.
Since 1994, more than 3.4 million Rwandan refugees have voluntarily repatriated.
The two-day meeting attracted refugee experts from the two countries and UNHCR and diplomats.