Post-June deadline: Why refugees should still return

On sunday, june 30, the UN Cessation Clause came into effect, meaning that some of the 100,000 Rwandan nationals who fled the country before 1998 would lose their refugee status.
Marie Chantal Ingabire in her home. After three years in Zambia, the 33-year-old decided to return home in November 2011.  The New Times/ Timothy Kisambira.
Marie Chantal Ingabire in her home. After three years in Zambia, the 33-year-old decided to return home in November 2011. The New Times/ Timothy Kisambira.

On sunday, june 30, the UN Cessation Clause came into effect, meaning that some of the 100,000 Rwandan nationals who fled the country before 1998 would lose their refugee status.

The refugees now face four options, including voluntary repatriation, local integration, seeking renewal of refugee status for those still in need of international protection, or the invocation of the clause.

No need to stay a refugee

According to the Ugandan High Commissioner to Rwanda, Amb. Richard Kabonero, there should not be any reasons for Rwandans to remain refugees because the conditions that led them to flee the country no longer exist.

Amb. Kabonero, who also is the dean of diplomats accredited to Rwanda, said his country would continue working closely with Kigali and the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) to the successful voluntary repatriation of Rwandan refugees.

“We are saying that there is no need of Rwandans to remain in Uganda as refugees, we believe as a country that the conditions that led to their fleeing no longer exist. Those who want to remain as traders or doing their businesses will remain but not as refugees,” he told The New Times in an interview last week.

UNHCR comments

Adrian Edwards, the spokesperson of the UNHCR, while briefing the media at the weekend in Geneva, Switzerland, said they are working closely with Kigali to ensure proper repatriation of the refugees.

“UNHCR is working closely with all governments and other stakeholders concerned, including the refugees themselves, on the implementation of the various aspects of the strategy beyond 30 June 2013,”  Edwards said on the eve the invocation of the Cessation Clause.

“All the major asylum countries hosting the Rwandan refugees, as well as Rwanda itself, have been implementing the strategy and following a ministerial meeting on April 18, in Pretoria, they have agreed to apply cessation at different rates.”

An estimated 100,000 Rwandan refugees are hosted mainly in Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, the Republic of the Congo, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

About 4.5 million Rwandans have so far returned home since 1994, as the country maintained growth in all aspects, at an unprecedented rate, given the ruins it was left in by the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

Within in the past five years, poverty has reduced by 13 per cent, with one million Rwandans lifted out of poverty.

Some returnees who talked to The New Times wondered why their compatriots continue to live as refugees yet their country is economically, politically and socially stable.

Theoneste Bavugamenshi, who voluntarily returned eight years ago after experiencing cruel life in DR Congo’s North Kivu province, said he will never forget the hard life of living as a refugee.

The 43-year-old man is a resident of Kaguba Village, Kiramuruzi Sector in Gatsibo District in Eastern Province, where he is now operates tailoring business.

He said he can now earn more than Rwf200,000 per month and owns several sewing machines with a total business valued at Rwf1.5 million.

“It wasn’t easy to take the decision to return. We were not given enough food and other basic needs in the camp. We misinformed that we would be killed once we returned home until I learnt the truth from my Congolese friends who often travelled to Rwanda for trade,” the father of two said.

Bavugamenshi said on his return, he was welcomed by government officials, who helped reintegrate him and provided the basic support to start a new life. He received a small loan from a bank and now focuses on expanding his business.

Bavugamenshi, a professional tailor who had fled during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, said Rwandan refugees are reluctant to return home mainly because of the misinformation about the country in the foreign media.

“They need to come back home. The current Rwanda is not the one of before 1994. I do whatever I want, I have access to healthcare with my family, I educate my children and other services that are extended to every national. I urge them to return home,” he said.

Rebuilding after Genocide

As an incentive, government, in collaboration with the UN agency in Rwanda, reintegrate the returnees by providing basic needs like shelter, food, medical facilities, and domestic appliances to help them start new lives as well as offering them land.

Theophile Ruhanga returned last year, having fled after the Genocide. He was 17.

The 36-year-old lived in Buvira in South Kivu province in DR Congo, where he says people were “treated like animals through mass killings, rape, lack of food and intimidation” by armed militia.

Returnees says most Rwandan refugees in DR Congo are held captive by FDLR, a militia largely blamed for the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

“I wonder what people benefit from holding their friends in captivity. They don’t give them food or anything but they just want people to remain suffering as refugees,” Ruhanga said.

After voluntary retuning, Ruhanga underwent a four-month training in plumbing and construction. He said he earns more than Rwf45,000 whenever his skill is outsourced.

The former refugee who now lives in Kumunini Village in Kiramuruzi Sector, Gatsibo District, urged those still roaming in the Congo jungles and other countries not to forsake the amenities that come with having a country one can call home.

Abed Biganahe, the health and social protection officer in Kiramuruzi Sector, said they have received many returnees in recent years.

Rwandans deserve a home

In an interview, the Minister for Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs, Seraphine Mukantabana, said they have established transit centres at all border points to facilitate the refugees before they are transferred to their respective villages.

“Rwanda is big; it’s not a small country that can fail to accommodate her nationals. We are prepared to welcome all the refugees and reintegrate them in their respective villages. But, most importantly, no body is being or will be forced to repatriate,” Mukantabana said.

Usually when refugees return, the government, in collaboration with international agencies such as UNHCR provides them with basic needs for the six months, including shelter, food and money, as well as transporting them to their villages.

However, for those who opt to remain in their host countries, government is will to provide them with national documents such as passports. They can fill in the forms from their host countries through the Rwandan embassies.

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