14 March 2018

Rwanda: Govt Speaks Out on Congolese Refugee Protests

The government has said that the recent violence at Kiziba Refugee Camp in Karongi District by Congolese refugees was brought about by refugees who wanted to operate outside the provisions of the law.

Speaking at a news briefing yesterday, Foreign Affairs Minister, and Government Spokesperson, Louise Mushikiwabo, said that the protestors were incited by a section of refugees who want to acquire Rwandan citizenship, retain their refugee status and at the same want to be resettled in western countries.

"Among the cases at the heart of the revolt at the refugee camp are those who have applied for national Rwandan Identity cards and want to retain their refugee card and also want to go home to DR Congo. Basically, you have refugees who want to be three things at the same time," she said.

"That has been the heart of the matter in the revolt. There is a group that has been leading the revolt, they wanted to be resettled in western countries but at the same time, we realised that through the national ID process, they had applied for national IDs," the minister explained.

Mushikiwabo said that the situation has further been complicated by the fact that most of the refugees from DR Congo have lived in Rwanda for more than 22 years with some of themhaving been issued citizenship and integrated into the country.

"For that particular group, it is a question of identity crisis. It is complex; it is something which we have to engage with them. Anyone who wants to return home willingly, we are happy to organise and support. One cannot go home to a foreign country with a Rwandan national ID, let alone want to be resettled in the US or Europe," she said.

She said that the tensions escalated to violence after some refugees attacked law enforcement officers and attempted to hold civilians hostage.

"It is not something that is easy, some of them are very young and some of them became extremely violent attacking law enforcement agents and trying to take hostages. Our law enforcement officers were not prepared for that kind of violence," she added.

The protests had initially been linked to a decision by the World Food Programme (WFP) to reduce food assistance to all refugees in Rwanda by 25 per cent due to funding shortage.

The food ration was reduced to Rwf5,700 per person a month, from Rwf7,600.

However, Mushikiwabo said that the reduction of allowance had little to do with the situation in Karongi as it affects refugees across the country.

"The reduction of the money that is meant for food rations is only a small part of it as it applies to the more than 170,000 refugees in this country," she said.

More refugee influx

The minister, however, said that the situation will not lead the government to turn away any refuge seekers as it is within the Rwandan policy to take in people who are seeking refugee.

"There is always a complication receiving people who are running away from their countries. Our country's policy is set on deep and strong values of openness to people in trouble. We have had a history of refugees in our own country," she said.

Last week, another group of over 2,500 Burundian refugees entered the country from DR Congo.

The group, that entered the country through Bugarama border in Rusizi District also pose a different set of problems, according to the minister.

Among the challenges is that the refugees belong to a religious sect that is against citizen registration, technology adoption and vaccinations.


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