22 February 2014

Rwanda: Senate Okays Draft Law On Refugees, Asylum

The Senate on Friday approved a Bill that will govern refugees and asylum seekers in the country once assented into law.

The draft law repeals the 2001 law relating to refugees, which did not spell out ways of dealing with refugees and asylum seekers, especially those who may arrive en masse or those who may arrive on the Rwandan territory while armed.

The Minister for Disaster Management and Refugee affairs (Midmar), Seraphine Mukantabana, who witnessed the Senate's vote yesterday, was upbeat that it would bring more clarity on how to treat refugees.

"The law is now clear on how to deal with refugees who might arrive on Rwandan territory in large numbers or when they are armed. It's important for the public to know that refugees have rights. But it is also important for refugees to understand that they have to respect the Rwandan laws when they are here," she said in an interview.

Asylum seekers who may arrive in Rwanda with arms will be disarmed and demobilised before they can apply for refugee status, the new draft law stipulates.

The Bill will also set up a National Refugee Status Determination Committee in charge of considering and deciding on asylum applications and guaranteeing or revoking refugee status.

The proposed body will be reporting to the ministry in charge of refugee affairs but still leaves the ministry with some work on deciding on who should be taken in as a refugee or who can be rejected.

According to the Bill, the committee shall consider and analyse applications for refugee status and decide within 45 days, and notify the asylum seeker about the decision within ten days.

Applicants who will be denied asylum by the committee will be allowed to appeal to the minister within a period of 30 days from the date the decision has been communicated to them.

The law will also require refugees to live in refugee camps.

Every person whose asylum has been granted shall be entitled to shelter until they are granted refugee status.

Currently there are more than 70,000 refugees in Rwanda in five camps.

Many of the refugees are from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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