The government has welcomed the decision by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) to invoke the cessation clause for Rwandan refugees, calling it a symbolic and substantive milestone that marks Rwanda’s progress in the last 17 years.
The UNHCR on Tuesday approved the Cessation Clause slated for June 30, 2012, instead extending it to June 30, 2013.
The Minister of Foreign Minister Affairs, Louise Mushikiwabo, said that government had welcomed the invocation adding that it is ready to welcome all Rwandans willing to return home.
“This stamp of approval from the UNHCR lights the path homeward for the estimated 100,000 remaining Rwandan refugees,” Mushikiwabo, who is also the Government spokesperson, said in a statement.
“We urge them to take their rightful place in Rwanda’s journey of reconciliation, national renewal and socioeconomic development.”
She noted that the government extends a welcoming hand to the citizens, who have yet to join their three million compatriots in returning home.
“Through our embassies and in consultation with UNHCR, we will take all the necessary steps to inform refugees of their rights and responsibilities, and work with asylum countries to ensure they can facilitate
return, or integration where necessary,” she said.
Speaking at a news conference yesterday, the Minister of Disaster Preparedness and Refugee affairs Gen. Marcel Gatsinzi said that the country’s constitution guarantees the right to citizenship.
“The Government is wholeheartedly committed to the return of all refugees. We believe it is the right of every Rwandan to enjoy the benefits of living in his or her own country, to be close to their relatives and to contribute to the development of Rwanda,”
“We will do all we can to ensure that they can make their choice based on accurate information, free of fear and in the knowledge that they will be welcomed and supported when they return home,” Gatsinzi said.
The Minister noted that the cessation clause concerns refugees who fled the country between 1959 and 1998. Those who will not have returned home will lose their refugee status.
“That is not to say that people will be repatriated forcefully. They have between today and June 2013 to willingly return home. There are three alternatives now, one being choosing to return between now and next year,”
“There are those who want to stay in the countries they live in currently as expatriates or are married to citizens of those countries. Those ones have the reasons to remain but will have to apply for Rwandan documents,” Gatsinzi said.
He noted that others can as well opt to apply for citizenship in the countries they live in because their refugee status would be stripped off after the implementation of the clause.
Gatsinzi dispelled rumours being spread in different countries to create fear among refugees by urging them not to return, observing that the doors are open to all Rwandans. He advised them to listen to those that visited the country through the “come and see” programme.
He noted that the government had started awareness campaigns among Rwandans living in exile and the response has been positive. He said a bus had been acquired to facilitate the transportation of refugees as well as a RwandAir plane.
Gatsinzi said that a majority of an estimated 100, 000 still living as refugees reside in DR Congo, Southern Africa countries as well as Central and West Africa. Over 3.5 million people have returned since 1994.
According to Antoine Ruvebana, the Permanent Secretary at MIDMAR, UNHCR considered refugees from 1959 to 1998 as those are the ones who fled from major crises while those who fled after that period either fled for personal or economical reasons.
Gatsinzi however noted that Rwanda wanted the clause to cover even those who fled the country from 2000 to around 2006, mainly those who fled Gacaca genocide courts but UNHCR considered the latter. Nevertheless, he said the decision was welcome.
According to Ruvebana, the decision means that on June 30, UNHCR will cut all support and supplies offered to Rwandan refugees who would immediately lose their refugee status.
African countries hosting majority of Rwandan refugees are Congo Brazzaville, DRC, Uganda, Zambia, Malawi Kenya and South Africa.