Rwanda: Returnees From DR Congo Crave Fresh Start

19 November 2020

They are not only overjoyed to be reintegrated into society, but dependents of ex-combatants who returned from the DR Congo last year on Tuesday, November 17, pledged to work hard and help build the nation.

They want to be exemplary citizens, shunning ethnic division because, they told The New Times, they know what disunity sows.

These are some of the vows they made on Tuesday, November 17, during their official sendoff ceremony at Nyarushishi Transit Centre, in Rusizi District, a place they called home for the past 11 months.

New national IDs were distributed to the returnees on Tuesday.

As the Rwanda Demobilisation and Reintegration Commission (RDRC) bid them farewell, Béatrice Iribagiza, 53, said, "Today, for us, is a day for jubilation."

Iribagiza, who was a vocational training teacher before the exodus to the DR Congo, in 1994, said "we arrived here in a very bad situation and we thank the government of Rwanda for all the help."

Iribagiza said: "We had lost hope. We had many diseases and chronic cough but the government acted so fast, we got medical care. Our children walked so long in the jungle. They were hungry, malnourished and very sick but once here, they got milk and much more."

Valérie Nyirahabineza, the RDRC Chairperson, noted that many of them were traumatised by the time they got to the camp. They went through a lot, she said, noting that the majority had various diseases as well as other social challenges.

Efforts by government, for example, ensured that no one in the camp got Covid-19.

RDRC Secretary General Francis Musoni told The New Times that more than Rwf100 million was spent "on healthcare provision alone" - dealing with complex cases of malnutrition, kwashiorkor, and other medical challenges.

"We gave them civic education lessons and skills that will help them in their next life journey and help them live well within their communities. We pledge to remain close and in touch with them, in collaboration with local authorities, to continue monitoring and assisting where need be," Nyirahabineza said.

At the Transit Centre, the returnees were, among others, taken through a comprehensive rehabilitation programme that included awareness on the processes of reconciliation, social cohesion, as well as their role and responsibilities as citizens.

"We learned many things, including personal hygiene. But most importantly, the Ndi Umunyarwanda programme helped much. We know there is no more room for the politics of ethnic division and hatred," Iribagiza said Tuesday after receiving her civic education certificate.

"We understand that it is national unity and reconciliation that brought this nation so far. And, clearly, without unity and reconciliation, we couldn't have been brought here and cared for. And we pledge to work very hard, both to advance ourselves, and the country."

Iribagiza was among 1,886 dependants of ex-armed groups' members repatriated from DR Congo - including more than 1,400 children - discharged to resettle and start life afresh with their families in Rwanda.

Early Wednesday morning, on November 18, the returnees bade each other farewell, boarded 57 buses and the convoy snaked out of Rusizi District's hills.

According to Nyirahabineza, they are dispatched back home all over the country but everyone is allowed to live wherever they wish.

Some of the Districts set to accommodate the largest number include: Karongi 410, Huye 189, Rubavu 178, Nyamagabe 172, Rusizi 109, Nyamasheke 96, Gicumbi 77, Gakenke 40, Bugesera 55, Gisagara 45, Rutsiro 44, Muhanga 50, and Nyanza 51.

In the City of Kigali, Gasabo, Kicukiro and Nyarugenge districts will take a good number of the returnees; 58, 22 and 28 respectively.

More than 500 of the children are below five years of age, officials noted.

I want to be self-sufficient

Marie Goretti Dusabimana, 28, mother of four whose first born and last born are eight and one year old, respectively, will settle in Karongi District along with more than 400 others.

Life in Kalehe territory of DR Congo's South Kivu Province, where her family was based before being removed by the Congolese army, she said, "was horrible."

Dusabimana told The New Times that her family was never safe in Kalehe but she now feels free and safe.

"Whatever happens now, home is best. We have security, and there is no injustice. More to that, we suffered so much during the journey back home but on arrival, we were given so good care. Look around you, our children didn't have good clothing when we got here."

"All I need or care about now is simply to improve myself as any other Rwandan. I want to be self-sufficient. There is so much I need to strive for, especially see my children go to school and all."

Ignatienne Nyirarukundo, Minister of State in charge of Social Affairs, assured them that the government will help them fit in properly. She told them that "it is your right to be assisted, just like any other Rwandan."

"It is in our best interest to see these citizens thriving. We urge them also to work hard."

The plan is to regain lost time.

Pelagie Nyirabenda Uwimana, 38, a mother of six with a two year old baby on her back, is heading to Rubavu District where her husband hails. But she was born in Gitarama, in present day Muhanga District.

Uwimana said: "My husband called his family and they are expecting me. All my kids are here with me. My plan, though I don't yet know how things will go exactly, is to settle and work hard."

Once she gets to her final destination, she told The New Times, her first priority is to get a place where her children can stay.

"The plan, afterwards, is to try and regain lost time. I don't think all the lost time can be regained but I will give it my all," Uwimana said.

Uwimana cannot trade anything for the peace and security in Rwanda, she said, comparing her situation in exile and now.

"I left the country as a child. But what I have seen has given me so much hope for the future. I am happy that my baby is alive and healthy in spite of the hardships during the long treacherous trek home."

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