Rwanda: Genocide Survivors Continue Search for Their Families 27 Years Later

In July 2020, soft spoken 28-year-old Grace Umutoni finally received the good news that she has been waiting for since she was two years old.

Umutoni, fondly referred to by friends as Rafiki, parted with her family during the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi when Interahamwe attacked their home in Nyamirambo.

Her family was exterminated and her only brother that she had escaped with died from his injuries days later.

Although she went on to be adopted by a loving family, go to school and become a professional nurse, Umutoni was not content without knowing anything about her roots.

And so, she intensified her search for any relative that may be alive to help her put the pieces together.

Her 26-six year search for her family came to end when a DNA test confirmed that Antoine Rugagi from Rubavu District is her maternal uncle.

Umutoni's successful reunion with members of her family was celebrated by many.

While this is one of the searches that have yielded positive results, Jean Ruzindaza the Director of the Genocide Survivors Advocacy Unit at the National Commission for the Fight against Genocide (CNLG) says that this is not the case for many.

Ruzindaza said that about 46 people who were children during the genocide are still searching for any surviving relatives.

"It is a complicated process but some will not rest until they find their roots. It is understandable that they are now adults and are motivated by the fact that they want their children to know their roots," he said.

Although only 46 are currently registered by CNLG, there are others that have not approached the commission.

Moral Support

When these survivors approach the Commission seeking support to find their loved ones, CNLG reviews how far their search has gone and advise them accordingly.

"There are those who approach us with some people in mind. In that case, we usually advise them to go for DNA tests to confirm their suspicions. There are many who have done test after test, gotten negative results but continued their search. Some of these families may have been wiped or a distant relative may be alive. It is hard to tell," he said.

He commended the media for being instrumental in making this search a success for some of the survivors.

Wiped out families

Meanwhile, the president of the Alumni of Genocide Survivors' Students Association (GAERG), Egide Gatari, says that the exercise to collect information about families that were completely wiped out during the Genocide is complete.

However, the organisation faces a Rwf50 million shortfall to implement the Rwf65 million project.

According to official figures, some 15,593 comprising of 68,871 people were completely wiped out.

A family is considered wiped out when both parents and all the children are killed.

The proposed plan to publish a book and putting together a digital database with details about these families has stalled due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Gatari said.

"Collecting detailed information about these families... requires to go into people's home which is obviously discouraged for the last one year. This means that we have to wait and first watch the pandemic trend," he said.

He explained that it was important to keep the legacy of these families alive as evidence so that those who prepared, supported and executed the genocide had a plan to wipe out Tutsis and to the extent they achieved that.

"There are many lessons that Rwandans can draw from these families," Gatari said.

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