History of Rwandan refugees: 1959 to-date

November 1959, marked the genesis of an unstable Rwanda, this was after the Rwandan Monarchy was overthrown. Hundreds of Tutsi were killed and millions displaced and forced to flee to neighbouring countries. This marked the start of a ‘social revolution’ that lasted 1959 to 1961. During the time, heightened ethnic tension and killings forced several Rwandans in the neigbouring countries to try and fight for their rightful place in Rwanda.
A group of refugees on the move. (Photo UNHR Gallery)
A group of refugees on the move. (Photo UNHR Gallery)

November 1959, marked the genesis of an unstable Rwanda, this was after the Rwandan Monarchy was overthrown. Hundreds of Tutsi were killed and millions displaced and forced to flee to neighbouring countries.

This marked the start of a ‘social revolution’ that lasted 1959 to 1961. During the time, heightened ethnic tension and killings forced several Rwandans in the neigbouring countries to try and fight for their rightful place in Rwanda.
Several attacks occurred between 1962 and 1967, each leading to retaliatory killings of large numbers of Tutsi civilians and creating new waves of refugees.

By the end of the 1980 hundreds of thousands of Rwandans had become refugees, primarily in the Great Lakes region of Burundi, Uganda, DR Congo (then Zaire) and Tanzania. These refugees re-organised themselves to fulfill their international legal right to return to their homeland.

However, former president of the genocidal regime, Juvenal Habyarimana, took the position that population pressures were already too great to accommodate the large numbers of refugees who wanted to return.

In different countries where Rwandans lived as refugees locals felt animosity towards them, categorizing them as intruders.

In December 1990, the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF), a military group formed from the Diaspora, attacked Kigali in efforts to end the military dictatorship and allow for refugee repatriation.

Tensions persisted despite peace talks and the signing of the Arusha Peace Accord in 1993. On April 6, 1994 Juvenal Habyarimana’s plane was shot down by extremists who wanted to spark off the Genocide. Immediately, the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi began.

During a period of one hundred days, over 1million Tutsis were systematically killed. The mass slaughters were brought to an end by the Rwanda Patriotic Army in July 1994.

The Aftermath of the Genocide

This led to the mass pouring of an estimated two million Rwandan refugees across the borders from Rwanda.
Several government officials, soldiers and militia who had participated in the genocide fled to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), taking with them around two millions civilians, this exodus became known as the Great Lakes region crisis.

The interahamwe continued to operate in the DRC alongside Congolese militia and other armed groups. They continued to target civilian populations and cause deaths, injury and harm.

After the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, several Rwandan refugees began returning home.  This massive repatriation was followed at the end of December 1996 by the return of another 1,410,782 Rwandan refugees, again in another huge spontaneous wave.

Return and resettlement of 1959 refugees

In addition to refugees who left Rwanda in 1994, refugees who fled the country in 1959 and 1960 had settled different parts of the Great Lakes Region for around 35 years. They were also returning to Rwanda.

Around 240,698 are estimated to have returned during 1995.

 
A brighter future

Since the end of the Genocide, Rwanda in partnership with UNHCR has helped repatriate its refugees.

Statistics from UNHCR indicate that over 32,000 refugees have already returned to their homeland since January 1, 2009. Since 2002 to date, 146,438 refugees have returned home.

The general estimate of refugees still living in the Diaspora is 70,000. These are mostly in DRC, Uganda, Congo-Brazzaville and Southern Africa. 

Rwanda expects that the year 2011 will mark an important stage in deliberations regarding the possible declaration of the Cessation clause. The passing of this clause means that Rwandan refugees risk losing their refugee status, if UNHCR invokes the decision.

A lot has changed in Rwanda in matters concerning security, basic human rights and the quality of life is improving—the more reason refugees should return home.

ntagu2005@yahoo.com

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