At least12,000 Rwandans who still live in foreign countries as refugees could return home between July and June next year as a result of implementation of the Cessation Clause, officials at the Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs (MIDIMAR) have said.
The estimate was revealed, yesterday, by Minister Seraphine Mukantabana while appearing before the parliamentary Standing Committee on National Budget and Patrimony to present MIDIMAR's Budget Estimates for Financial Year 2017/18.
The minister said December 31 being the deadline by which Rwandan refugees who fled their country before December 31, 1998, will no longer be considered as refugees, a massive homecoming by returnees should be expected during the next fiscal year that starts in July and end in June next year.
"Because December 31 is the very last date, they may consider it as serious and decide to come home. We have advised the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning to set aside as much money as possible to be able to receive and reintegrate every Rwandan who will come home," she told journalists shortly after meeting with the MPs.
Under the Cessation Clause, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, has been working with governments across the world to implement a strategy of bringing to proper closure the situation of Rwandan refugees who fled the country before December 31, 1998.
The strategy for invoking the clause contains four components to ensure that Rwandans who fall under the category no longer claim to be refugees, including their voluntary repatriation, local integration in host countries, retention of refugee status for people still in need of international protection, and the invocation of the cessation clause, which would see them lose refugee status.
Inside the Cessation Clause
The UNHCR defines cessation clauses as built into the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1969 Organisation of African Unity Refugee Convention, which provide for refugee status to end once fundamental and durable changes have taken place in the country of origin and the circumstances that led to flight no longer exist.
In the case of Rwanda, UNHCR has recommended that cessation come into effect from June 30, 2013, but the deadline has since been postponed several times until the latest one, which is due on December 31, 2017.
Both Rwandan and UNHCR officials in the country say the current social, political, and security conditions in the country are favourable enough for Rwandan refugees to return home.
"The situation in Rwanda is perfect. Refugees should come back home. There won't be postponement of the Cessation Clause," said UNHCR country representative Saber Azam at a news conference in December.
MIDIMAR officials estimate that at least 245,000 Rwandans could be still living as refugees across 20 countries in the world with a large number of them believed to be in DR Congo.
Ministry's Budget Estimate
The majority of current Rwandan refugees left the country as a result of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi and some 3.4 million citizens have since been repatriated.
Unlike in the current fiscal year when MIDIMAR had planned that 20,000 former refugees would be repatriated and integrated into society even though about 4,800 have come home so far, it has planned for 12,000 returnees in the next financial year.
"We plan for these numbers but they could increase or decrease because returnees come back on a voluntary basis. All we pledge is that the Government will afford to reintegrate every Rwandan who will return," Minister Mukantabana said.
MIDIMAR has asked Parliament to approve slightly over Rwf42 million in line with reintegrating the returnees during the next fiscal year and also asked the Ministry of Finance to plan for standby funds just in case of a higher influx of returnees.
In total, the disaster management ministry has asked the Government to allocate slightly over Rwf4.5 billion for its operations in the next fiscal year, which will also include the management of thousands of foreign refugees hosted in the country, as well as the reduction of risks for natural disasters and response when they strike unexpectedly.