More returnees jet in, bringing to an end refugee life

At exactly 8.30am yesterday, a Kenya Airways aircraft with Evelyn Nyandwi and her three daughters on board, touched down at Kigali International Airport from Malawi where she had lived as a refugee for 19 years.
Some of the former refugees who returned from Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Malawi at Kigali International Airport. Saturday Times/ John Mbanda.
Some of the former refugees who returned from Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Malawi at Kigali International Airport. Saturday Times/ John Mbanda.

At exactly 8.30am yesterday, a Kenya Airways aircraft with Evelyn Nyandwi and her three daughters on board, touched down at Kigali International Airport from Malawi where she had lived as a refugee for 19 years.

Now aged 32, Nyandwi fled the country during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi that claimed lives of over one million Rwandans.

Her return comes just weeks after the UN High Commission for Refugees applied the Secession Clause, implying that Rwandan refugees lost their refugee status.

The clause was enforced effective June 30, after the UN agency determined that there were no reasons for Rwandans to remain as refugees.

Nyandwi returned alongside 15 countrymen who were living in Dzaleka Refugee Camp located about 50 kilometres from Malawian capital Lilongwe.

 Dzaleka Refugee Camp was set up by UNHCR in 1994 to accommodate refugees from Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

According to Nyandwi, in the aftermath of the Genocide against the Tutsi, she fled with people who were not her relatives to Burundi by foot, then Tanzania and eventually ending up in Malawian capital.

In Rwanda, she says, her parents resided in Gashora, in Bugesera District, and she had no idea whether her relatives are still alive or not.

She was given asylum in Malawi alongside other Rwandans, and grew up from the camp where she later met her would be husband, a fellow Rwandan, who died last year, leaving her with three young girls.

“When he died I lost hope ...I needed not only to live, but also provide for my children. In the camp we have been getting little food and children cried endlessly,” she said.

In Dzaleka Refugee Camp, the mother, who was clutching her youngest child, aged one year,  throughout the interview, said that they were given maize ration of 30 kilogrammes per month, 10 kilo of beans, one kilo of salt and half a litre of cooking oil, which could not sustain her young family.

“I just pray I get where I can settle and look after my children. They need to go to school, get medication and proper diet and according to what I have heard, the government will facilitate us,” the returnee says.

Asked about whether she came due to the invocation of Cessation Clause, she said it was her voluntary initiative and that nobody forced her to return.

“More Rwandans in the same camp are yearning to come home,” she said.

The invocation of the Cessation Clause left Rwandan  refugees with four options, including voluntary repatriation, seek formal local integration or seeking renewal of refugee status for those still in need of international protection.

Positive response

Host countries have since embarked on implementing the decision and more refugees continue to voluntarily return home.

According to officials from the Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs, at least 330 people have returned from different counties this month alone.

Several others come to register for national documents and would eventually return to their host countries, though not as refugees.

Those who returned came from as far as United Kingdom, Belgium and South Africa.

Malawi is said to be harbouring over 500 Rwanda refugees.

Damascene Ndikuryayo, another returnee, pointed out that he had no reason to remain a refugee.

“Much of the time we depended on UN support but when you contemplate on the future, you realise that the only option is to return home,” he said.

Saboteurs?

He further says that he left in the 1994 and since then he has been residing in the same camp in Malawi entirely depending on UNHCR support, which he said was paltry.

The 42- year-old man, originally from Huye District, says he is optimistic, despite having been told upon arrival in Rwanda that his parents died.

He further said that in the camp, there are some people who took part in the Genocide and don’t want to return home.

“They are the ones who discourage refugees from returning home, peddling rumours that they would be persecuted once they return,” he said.

Since 1995, around four million refugees have returned home while around 100,000 are believed to be residing in several African countries as refugees.

Some countries like Uganda have said that some amendments are being done in their laws in order to be able to invoke the clause.

Uganda’s minister in charge of refugees, Hillary Onek, announced that it was not possible for his government to effect the Cessation Clause as of June 2013 due to gaps and contradictions within the Ugandan laws.

According to the minister, the Refugee Act and the Immigration Acts have gaps that create challenges in applying some of the proposals, especially on local integration and citizenship.

“For example, while the Refugee Act provides for eligibility for citizenship for refugees who have stayed in the country for 10 years, the Immigration Act says a refugee is permanently a refugee including their offspring,” he said.

Seraphine Mukantabana, the Rwandan minister in charge of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs, is currently in Uganda to discuss the issue. She also visited different refugee camps hosting Rwandans.

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