Rwanda has repatriated more than 3.3 million of its citizens since 1994, with just about 70,000 still regarding themselves refugees in various countries.
Yet much of the debate surrounding calls for those still in exile to return home has often focused on the factors that support or contradict these appeals – depending on who you talk to.
In the media, we tend to ignore the positive things governments do, arguing it’s their job, after all. But looking at how fast millions of Rwandans have repatriated and quickly integrated in a record period, it would be unfair to let this success story be clouded in the confusion that surround the fate of a few thousands of our compatriots, who, for reasons known to themselves, would rather remain refugees.
It’s public knowledge that conditions that were responsible for the mass exodus of Rwandans had long ended by September 2009, when the UNHCR High Commissioner, António Guterres, declared that it was time to open debate on the closure of the Rwandan refugee chapter, including the invocation of the Cessation Clause.
The UNHCR, after conducting a thorough review of the socio-economic and political conditions that prevail in the country, concluded that the reasons for which some Rwandans were recognised as refugees were no more. But one key principle remains: no refugee will be forced to return home.
The other crucial parties in this process are the individual host countries, which may, upon the request of the individual Rwandan refugees on their territory, decide to give them refugee status, on a case by case status.
But once the Cessation Clause has come into force, a host country would have the right to treat those unwilling to return home as illegal migrants. It is now upon those compatriots to use this period to emulate millions of others who have chosen to return and help rebuild their country.
Looking back at this country’s history, with the government investing so much in encouraging Rwandans to return home is testimony to how far this country has come.
In the past, under the genocidal regime of Juvenal Habyarimana, the government always justified its rejection for constant refugee pleas to return home, by citing the size of the country, with Habyarimana once infamously stating that the country was like a glass full of water, with no space for an extra drop.
It was an overt attempt to condemn a section of the Rwandan community to a life in exile, a life of deep contempt and social ridicule, for the hundreds of thousands of Rwandans who were scattered all over the region.
It was that frustration, coupled with the hostility and exclusive policies in the host countries, along with Habyarimana’s fascist policies, which resulted in the liberation struggle. Yet not all the members of this group – the so-called Rwandan old caseload refugees – returned home after the obstacle to their repatriation was removed.
After 30 years in exile, some had successfully integrated in their host communities. But they were also no longer referred to as refugees. They were and remain citizens of the respective host countries.
Similarly, in the case of the post-Genocide caseload refugees, it is their right to choose to repatriate or apply for citizenships of their host countries. But they have no right to continue exploiting non-existent conditions to continue to claim refugee status.
The country has since moved on, and its performance in almost all sectors is a matter of record. Today, Rwanda is not only in the league of the most stable and safe nations, but is also one of the fastest growing economies worldwide.
Across the country, the lives of the ordinary people, including those who returned as recent as last year, have transformed drastically. Free basic education, universal health insurance, sweeping land reforms, gender equality, clean water, and improved infrastructure have lifted the Rwandan people from poverty, with the GDP per capita doubling in a single decade.
Wide-ranging business reforms have earned the country back-to-back international accolades, ranking third in best places to do business in the African continent, according to the latest World Bank’s Doing Business Index, released just last week.
The country is not only the least corrupt in the region, but also the fourth least corrupt on the continent, according to a recent report by World Bank Worldwide Governance Indicators project.
In the area of agriculture, the country was, last week, named among the top three developing countries – along with Brazil and Malawi – that are most prepared to ensure food security for their citizens, according to last week’s Action Aid’s Hunger Free Scorecard.
Similarly, the country has made substantial progress in the areas of political and civil rights, with citizens playing a key role in governance issues, through such initiatives as Imihigo.
It’s no secret that there are some Rwandan refugees with criminal past – including Genocide cases – back home, and they will continue to spread all sorts of lies among their compatriots about the situation in the country, to discourage them from voluntary repatriation.
In all fairness, no Rwandan needs invocation of the Cessation Clause to return home.