Monday, 20 May 2013

The bell tolls for Rwandan refugees


Returnees from Uganda board a truck at Gatuna border post recently. The Cessation Clause will be invoked on June 31.
The ball is in their court and it is to refugees still living in camps in foreign lands for whom the bell tolls as the Cessation Clause that requires voluntary repatriation nears effect.

The government has severally urged the refugees, who are mainly in DR Congo, Uganda, Congo Brazzaville and Zambia, to return home.

However, despite amenities, including transport, free documentation and other waivers, provided to facilitate their return, the Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs says about 70,000 Rwandans still live as refugees in various countries.

Under the ‘Come and See and Go and Tell’ programme, many refugees have visited the country firsthand and lived the truth; Rwanda is safe for all its citizens to return home.

With just a few weeks to invoking the Cessation Clause for Rwandan refugees, many are voluntarily returning home, while others are yet to make up their minds on what direction to take. 

Rwandan refugees who fled between 1959 and December 31, 1998, are expected to have voluntarily returned home or applied for resident permits or citizenship in the host countries by June 30.

The Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs (Midimar) says about 70,000 Rwandans still live as refugees in different countries. 

After the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, a total of 3,437,472 Rwandan refugees have voluntarily returned, with more than  11,000 returning last year alone. 

Providing transport

The returnees have shared testimonies, creating the urge for more to return. Policies are now in place to facilitate their homecoming and smooth integration. 

“The refugees who want to return home are given emergency travel documents for free and it’s the government’s policy to welcome all returnees because there is no reason why they should remain in exile since Rwanda is peaceful and stable,” Anaclet Kalibata, the director-general of Immigration and Emigration told The New Times in an exclusive interview. 

“The motive behind issuance of emergency travel documents is to enable them return home without any hurdle.”

Séraphine Mukantabana, the minister for disaster management and refugee affairs, said her ministry and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNCHR) were doing all they can to ensure that refugees return home voluntarily and with ease. 

“We are providing transport fares and other forms of assistance. We are partnering with transport companies, especially airlines to facilitate the refugees,” Mukantabana said, adding that they are holding talks with countries that host Rwandan refugees to facilitate those who wish to repatriate.

Kalibata said structures with ties to Rwanda are used to facilitate the process. 

“We use the existing structures in place such as Diaspora communities and Rwandan missions abroad to issue emergency travel documents to refugees returning to Rwanda. We even issue the documents online,” he said, adding that the move has been successful in some countries such as Zambia and Malawi. 

Option for staying back

Those who wish to stay in their host countries can remain as immigrants and not refugees, and for that case they will need to acquire national passports then apply for work permits or resident permits depending on the requirements of the host country. 

 “We also facilitate them to get Rwandan passports if host counties are willing to retain them as regular immigrants or if they acquire citizenship and the host country accepts dual nationality as, we have been doing for Rwandans in the Diaspora all over the world,” Kalibata said. 

“If that country doesn’t accept dual nationality, then you will be required to denounce Rwandan nationality as the law provides.” 

For countries where there are no Rwandan foreign missions, Kalibata said Rwandans can apply for passports through Diaspora organisations and give the powers of attorney to their relatives in Rwanda to process  travel documents for them. 

Most Rwandan refugees are in DR Congo, Uganda, Congo Brazaville, Malawi, and Zambia. 

UNHCR, in partnership with Rwanda, last year allocated $12m (about Rwf7.7b) to facilitate voluntary repatriation of refugees and permanent settlement. 

The Minister for Local Government and Social Affairs, James Musoni, said his ministry has helped returnees settle down, extending facilities to ease their transition. 

Upon return, the refugees get medical insurance, and those in school-going age are enrolled as soon as they settle in. 

“They haven’t faced difficulties and most of them have land and relatives here. We’ve a committee at district level charged with resettling refugees,” he said. 

While the ground has been set for the returnees to get back home smoothly, it has not been without obstacles. 

Detractors, mainly comprising suspected perpetrators of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi spread romours, especially in refugee camps, that upon return, the refugees are tortured or killed, returnees say. 

The tales spread fear among the refugees, creating a reluctance to return. However, under the ‘Come and See and Go Tell’ programme, many refugees have visited the country to have a firsthand experience of what is on the ground.

It is during these visits that many decide to return and also go back to the camps and dispel the rumours and falsehoods.


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