Over 4000 Rwandans to lose refugee status
Over 4000 Rwandans refugees will lose their refugee status in Uganda on Sunday as the cessation clause affecting Rwandans who fled tumultuous events that blighted their country between 1959 and December 1998 comes into effect.
Refugees to be affected are those that fled atrocities such as the fighting that saw the ouster of the monarch in 1958, the 1973 coup that saw the ouster of Gregoire Kayibanda, the 1994 genocide and the 1997 grisly incursions by interahamwe militias.
The cessation was disclosed by the minister for disaster preparedness, relief and refugees, Hillary Onek on Wednesday during a symposium themed "finding a comprehensive and durable solution for Rwandan refugees in Uganda," at Grand Imperial hotel Kampala.
On the surface this looks to be a reasonably sensible idea but there have been some very serious allegations related to this, ( unfortunately for me in French ) .
" The latest revelations Rwandan students who have sought and obtained political asylum in Uganda to escape the harassment of the Rwandan authorities forcing them to join the ranks of the M23, lay bare the policy Kigali in demography export more 'living souls possible in DR Congo, so they get killed or remain, if they survive. "
The 14 men and two women say they fled Rwanda on June 3, ending weeks of what they say was harassment by officials who targeted them for dodging a "political awareness program" in Butare, a town 50 miles (80 kilometers) from the capital.
Two of the fleeing students said in interviews that they resisted going there because most of their friends who went there never came back. They said their classmates were forced to cross the border and fight alongside M23, one of many rebel groups operating in Congo's troubled North Kivu province.
"We told them that we are too young to join M23 but they did not listen," said Moses Mugisha, 21. "They threatened us. We can't go back to Rwanda. We are very scared."
The 16 who refused to go to the "Ingando" program say their high school examination results were withheld by authorities as a result. Under Ingando, thousands of Rwandan students take part each year in what the government calls solidarity camps, locations across the country where they are lectured on what it means to be Rwandan.
That sounds to me like a bloody good reason to jump the Rwandan ship so to speak. From the same ABC story we have the official Rwandan position as put by the Rwandan ambassador to Uganda.
Frank Mugambage, Rwanda's ambassador to Uganda, said he had nothing to say on this matter. He was quoted in Rwandan state-owned media as saying the students' results were confiscated because they cheated on an exam and that it was "unfortunate for young people to resort to blackmail."
That is of course stupidity but stupidity is something I have come to expect from Rwanda.
"The reason behind the revocation of refugee status for this category of refugees is that events that led to their displacement no longer exist. Both government of Uganda and Rwanda have conducted sensitization campaigns aimed at encouraging this group of persons to return home. However, Rwandan refugees who trickled into Uganda between 1999 to-date will not be affected by the policy shift," clarified Commissioner of refugees, Apollo Kazungu, who clarified that government is not simply shutting doors to new refugee applications from Rwanda.
"We shall consider such applications on a case-by-case basis," Kazungu said, revealing that 10,000 Rwandan refugees have thus far been voluntarily repatriated.
Remember the headline " Over 4000 Rwandans to lose refugee status " I have a degree of difficulty reconciling with the voluntary assertions made here.
In 2003, Kampala and Kigali, together with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) signed a tripartite agreement tailored to ensuring voluntary repatriation of Rwandan refugees without flouting international conventions on refugee protection.
Since then, the two governments in tandem with UNHRC have organized series of 'go see come and tell' visits where select refugees have visited Rwanda in order to encourage voluntary repatriation among their peers.
I have issues here as well. Relief Web reports.
" Those returnees included two among those who were part of the delegation that visited Rwanda earlier last April through “Come and See, Go and tell” program. After realizing that the country is safe and they had been told lies, they returned in the camp in Burundi with conviction to sensitize their fellow refugees to return home."
Why am I so skeptical ?
However, aware that many Rwandan refugees have developed deep roots in Uganda on account of being born here and getting married to Ugandans, the invocation of the cessation clause will also open avenues for local integration or alternative legal status like acquiring resident permits.
"...deep roots in Uganda on account of being born here... " One might well argue that is fairly much conclusive evidence of Ugandan citizenship.
UNHCR country representative Mohammed Abdi though lauding Uganda for "giving quality asylum" to Rwandan refugees concurred with Prof. George Kanyeihamba's call to grant Ugandan citizenship to Rwandan refugees who have been in this country for more than 20 years.
Although the Immigration Act bars any refugee from acquiring Ugandan citizenship, the constitution provides for anyone (without exception) who has been in Uganda for more than 20 years to acquire citizenship on registration.
"Bring me any refugee who has been here for 20 years and has been denied citizenship and I will cause an interpretation of the constitution over this matter," Kanyeihamba said in response to submissions about the ambiguities on the legal regime on refugees in Uganda.
Uganda has in the past done some fairly impressive work to date in the the field of refugee resettlement and it is pleasing to note that is a will to find solutions for long term refugees however 20 years is ridicules. No one can be expected to put their life on hold for 20 years yet that is the reality that refugees face.
According to Rwanda's High Commissioner to Uganda, Frank Mugambage, Rwanda has already established three transit points for returnees where they will be given packages to last them three months.
Mugambage also said Kigali is open to issuing Identity Cards and passports to Rwandese refugees who are reluctant to go back home.
According to Kazungu, Uganda is hosting over 200,000 refugees in its eight refugee camps with 14,811 being Rwandese.
In all of this debate it should be remembered that Uganda deals with hundreds of thousands of refugees, the world has a huge obligation to assist Uganda and we are failing totally Uganda. My own country New Zealand is a bloody disgrace, on any measure you care to name we are one of the richest nations on earth, yet we manage 700 refugees a year. My concerns about Uganda fade into insignificance when I look at my own nation.