30 December 2017

Rwanda: Govt Urges Refugees to Return Before Deadline

Rwandan government maintains it expects no further extension of the refugee status for Rwandans when the deadline for its cessation elapses on January 1, 2018.

Pressure has been mounting on the host countries to step up the implementation of the cessation of the Rwandan refugee status after it was extended last year.

Parties cited the need for more time to promote voluntary repatriation, while a section of asylum countries grappled with logistical challenges to examine individual cases of refugees seeking exemption or integration.

This time, however, Ministry for Disaster Management and Refugees authorities said neither the UN's High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) nor host countries had until late changed their position on the definitive cessation of refugee status on December 31st.

"So far let's make it known that there is no such a plan to extend the deadline for the cessation clause. And this is our key message to a section of the refugees who hoped that the deadline will again be extended as had been the case before," Jeanne d'Arc De Bonheur told The EastAfrican.

Ministry of Disaster management and Refugee Affairs data shows the country received more than 84 596 returnees since 2009 out of estimated 100,000 who lived in countries mainly DRC, Uganda, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique and Congo Brazzaville.

More than 3,449,644 returned since the 1994 genocide, according to UNHCR.

Although months leading to up to this year's cessation clause deadline saw the number of returnees almost triple from 5,781 in 2016 to close to 15,000 in 2017, arrival trends from 2014 to 2016 show the number of Rwandan refugees repatriating had remained almost the same in the those three years.

Government officials say this was due partly to the postponement of UNHCR decision to invoke the cessation clause.

The refugee agency had on June 30, 2013 declared the Cessation Clause for Rwandan refugees who fled between 1959 and December 1998, but concerned host countries took long to fully abide by it, according to Rwandan officials.

Under the strategy, countries committed themselves to help refugees with options being to secure legal residency where they live, besides returning home.

The UNHCR office in Kigali could not be reached for comments by press time.

But Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs said parties held several meetings, and co-operation with respective Rwandan embassies was established to help in issuance of necessary documents.

Jean Claude Rwahama, director of Refugee Affairs Unit said those who may fail to return or legalise their stay could risk becoming illegal immigrants in the host countries.

He said the country will continue to welcome and integrate returnees through other means like schemes for the vulnerable after the usual return package ends on January 1, 2018.


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