Rwanda and the Republic of Congo are looking into ways to trigger mass voluntary repatriation of Rwandan refugees as the deadline for the implementation of the cessation clause draws nearer.
Speaking at a meeting in Kigali, yesterday, the Minister for Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs, Seraphine Mukantabana, said those who seek to return home are warmly welcome and the country is well-prepared to receive them with due care.
According to the minister, there are about 10,000 Rwandan refugees in Congo Brazzaville.
The tripartite meeting between the Government of Rwanda, the Republic of Congo and the United Nations' Agency for Refugee Affairs (UNHCR), aimed to assess the progress of the implementation of the roadmap agreed upon in Congo in September, last year and draw the way forward.
The last meeting recommended a joint sensitisation campaign on two durable solutions namely; voluntary repatriation and local integration.
The sensitisation campaigns highlighted services offered to refugees who fled between 1959 and 1998 and are willing to return home.
Another option considered was how to support those who have particular reasons to remain in the host country to retain refugee status.
The UNCHR representative in Congo, Cyr Modeste Kouame, cited the need for dignified voluntary repatriation for Rwandan refugees, assuring that those who wish to remain with genuine reasons would be integrated.
Antoinette Dinga-Dzondo, the Minister for Social Affairs, Humanitarian Action and Solidarity of Congo-Brazaville, said that each party had done its part. So, what we came to do is to see where we have reached."
However, she explained that for each option, there are criteria and measures to take.
"That is what we are examining. Each Rwandan refugee has option to choose among the three solutions. We are not going to impose. Once one has chosen a given option, we examine whether they fullfill the criteria for them to opt for the voluntary repatriation, [local] reintegration,or the retention of the refugee status," she said.
Minister Mukantabana said several channels were set up to disseminate information on the available options through churches, civil society and youth forums so that no Rwandan refugee claims not to have got information.
She said that Rwanda has already prepared Nyarushishi camp in Rusizi District to receive the returnees.
Upon arrival in Rwanda, the returnees will get a lump sum of $250 per an adult person to support their welfare. This means that a family with 10 adults will get $2,500, which the minister said can help them start a profitable business. Previously, a returnee would get $150. "What we prioritise in this country is jobs that are not based on agriculture," she said.
The UNHCR Representative to Rwanda, Azam Saber, said that nearly 5,600, Rwandan refugees in Congo were born in exile.
He added that over 4,000 refugees are attending school, which illustrates the relatively young age of the refugee population in Congo. "We would like to encourage more Rwandan refugees living abroad to return home because Rwanda is safe and because the Government of the Republic of Rwanda is welcoming them," he noted.
On June 30 ,2013, UNHCR recommended the cessation of refugee status for Rwandan refugees bringing to proper closure the situation of Rwandan refugees who fled their country before December 31, 1998.
Countries of asylum and UNHCR agreed on a differentiated approach to cessation during a Ministerial Meeting held on 18 April 2013 in Pretoria.
Two additional ministerial meetings were subsequently organised in Geneva in October 2015 and September 2016, confirming the commitment of concerned states to December 31, 2017 effectively enforce the cessation clause.
About 3.5 million Rwandans who had fled to different countries have since returned home and many more continue to return, according to information from the Ministry for Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs.