Twenty-one years after the genocide, and despite a rosy picture created internationally of a healing nation, many Rwandan refugees are reluctant to return home for fear of persecution by the current regime. After those living in Zambia lost their official refugees status, Kigali is pursuing forced repatriation or issuance of Rwandan passports. Neither of these options is safe for the affected persons.
Two years after losing their refugee status, former Rwandan refugees who fled Rwanda between 1959 and 1998 have not yet come to a satisfactory conclusion in their quest for local integration. The durable solution of local integration, which was dependent on international funding, was promised at the inter-ministerial meeting in Pretoria, South Africa, on 18 April 2013, two months before they lost their refugee status against their will on 30 June 2013. In October the same year a Zambian delegation met donors in Geneva who pledged support to integrate 4000 of the 6000 Rwandan refugees.
This development was a reversal of policy of the previous government that had insisted on the repatriation of most Rwandan refugees. It resembled the policy of integrating 10,000 of the 18,000 Angolan refugees in Zambia who lost their refugee status one year before. To date 6000 of them have been screened, and have obtained Angolan government passports, and 233 have been given residence permits allowing them to stay permanently in Zambia. The government recently agreed to give residence permits to those former refugees who have lived in Zambia for over twenty years.
For Angolan former refugees repatriation is a possible option, and in 2014, 1609 Angolans returned home. It appears not to be an option for Rwandan former refugees; only four returned, and only 300 since 2003 when the cessation clause was first agreed on. Unlike their Angolan counter-parts, the stumbling block to Rwandan former refugees’ successful integration has been their reluctance to take Rwandan Government passports as the prerequisite for Zambian immigration permits. Possessing the Rwandan Government passport would confirm that they no longer have a ‘well-founded fear of persecution’, and the need for international protection. It would put them under the control and surveillance by the Rwandan Patriotic Front government, which could decline to renew the passport after five years. Possessing passports would result in their becoming ordinary migrants, and the possible requirement to return to Rwanda, already possessing the necessary passports for their return.
In February 2013 the government had given hope of a desirable way forward by the Ministry of Home Affairs giving residence permits without Rwandan Government passports to 44 Rwandan refugee professionals and business people employing Zambian labour, all of whom had been in Zambia for many years. However, the small number involved, and the passing of over two years since then shows the Zambian government is unwilling to extend the same process.
There was apprehension over a high level Zambian Government delegation to Kigali on 23 March this year. The Tripartite meeting of the Zambian and Rwandan governments and the UNHCR produced a communiqué that gave a time limit of three months to sensitize Rwandan former refugees to decide either to repatriate or acquire Rwandan passports allowing them to stay in Zambia legally. The Zambian Deputy Minister of Home Affairs threatened deportation of those who did not obtain the Rwandan Government passport in time. The communiqué blamed ‘hardliners’ for ‘discouraging other former refugees from accessing durable solutions’. A documentary made of the visit was aired several times on Zambian national television, supporting Rwandan former refugee repatriation.
However, on 8th May, six weeks later, the Zambian Cabinet announced that Zambia would offer Rwandan former refugees ‘an alternative status’. The Minster of Home Affairs announced that a screening process would be set up, and those who did not qualify would be handed to the UNHCR. No mention was made of forced repatriation. This statement seemed to show that the Zambian Government is listening to Rwandan former refugees and their reluctance to take Rwandan Government passports.
That reluctance is strengthened by their observing the Tutsi Rwandan Government making strenuous efforts to secure their repatriation one way or another to bring all Hutu refugees under their control. The RPF Government offered to provide passports at the Pretoria meeting in April 2013, and followed this with a delegation to Zambia immediately after the cessation of refugee status in June and later in October 2013, and most recently at the Kigali Tripartite meeting in March this year. To allow Rwandan refugees who decline to take Rwandan Government passports to return to refugee status under the UNHCR would ensure their welfare and security in Zambia, especially if they can have freedom of movement and employment.
Two go-and-see, come-and-tell programs organised by the Rwandan Government to promote repatriation failed to produce their intended result. Two Rwandan former refugee students failed to travel in December 2014 because of general refugee opposition, and a Rwandan former refugee leader accompanying the Zambian Government delegation in March returned with a negative report about human rights, and discrimination against Hutu in the country.
The Catholic Church in Zambia led by the Archbishop of Lusaka continues to be a stalwart advocate for the poor and those without a voice in Zambia, especially refugees. On May 18 Archbishop Mpundu wrote a comprehensive and forceful open letter to the Minister of Justice, and a copy to the Minister of Home Affairs. He gave a scriptural basis for the church’s intervention, and showed that he and the Catholic Church are listening carefully to the appeals of Rwandan former refugees in Zambia. He outlined reasons for their ‘well-founded fear of persecution’, the flawed nature of the interviews to retain their refugee status, and the reasons why Rwandan Government passports are an obstacle to successful local integration. He advised the government to reverse the cessation of Rwandan refugee status, which would give them security in Zambia. This had also been the suggestion of Dr Barbara Harrellbond, a notable British academic who visited Lusaka at the end of April; she stressed that refugee status is given by the Zambian Government and not by the UNHCR.
A bilateral meeting between the governments of Zambia and Rwanda took place in Kigali on 6 June this year. They discussed trade, security arrangements, and the provision of Zambian teachers to facilitate English in Rwandan schools, which are now Anglophone. It was agreed that both countries sign an extradition treaty, first proposed in 2009. Rwandan former refugees suspect that a number of different lists have been provided to Zambia in past years by the RPF Government asking for extradition of Rwandan refugee leaders and successful business people who are now accused of being genocidaires.
As in other countries in the region, Rwandan former refugee security remains a challenge. Rwandan former refugee Clement Nshimyukisa, a successful business man, was killed in a Lusaka compound in suspicious circumstances in May 2014, and his shop run by his widow was ransacked two weeks later. In October the same year plans were revealed to allegedly kidnap five Rwandan former refugee leaders, which failed to materialize. The opening of a Rwandan Government High Commission office in Lusaka naturally gives cause for concern.
After a failed attempt in 2002 because of parliamentary opposition, the Zambian Government is in the process of revising the 1970 Refugee (Control) Act, written six years after Zambian independence. It remains to be seen if the government will rescind the reservations on freedom of movement and employment.
A comprehensive 48 page ‘strategic framework for the local integration of former refugees in Zambia’ was released in January 2014. It outlines alternative legal status for former refugees, an integrated resettlement program and support for refugee-affected areas. Contractors are being employed to improve schools and clinics in selected areas where 10 hectare plots per household will be allocated under conditions to former refugees, as well as to an equal number of Zambian farmers. The local integration process envisages improved roads, water points, electricity supply, legal courts, welfare centres, skills training centres and support for small businesses. Donor countries supporting the project so far are Canada, Japan, the US, Germany and Denmark.
To date, 733 of the 4000 Rwandan former refugees have various immigration permits. The delay in providing legal documents for local integration, which in 2014 was expected to conclude in three years’ time, means the reservations on movement and employment still severely restrict Rwandan former refugees, the majority of whom are subsistence farmers restricted to Meheba rural Refugee Settlement in the North Western province. They totaled 2194 in December 2013. They need ‘gate passes’ to go out, usually restricted to one month. Over nine hundred are self- settled. The old, infirm and physically challenged who can’t work receive the equivalent of US $10 a month, not enough for basic subsistence. Some former refugees are still damaged by trauma endured though violence in Rwanda or on the journey to Zambia and need counseling.
Those who wish to better themselves by running small businesses in the town of Solwezi or in Lusaka, totaling 818 in December 2013, need an investor’s permit that requires $25,000 capital. Expired Rwandan refugee cards are not being renewed, and this can impact very negatively on refugees especially in urban areas where clinics and schools may not receive refugee patients or students without valid ID cards, or allow the concessionary rates for refugees, and insist on the higher rate for foreign nationals. Birth certificates are not given, which certify refugee status. Corrupt immigration officers take bribes not to arrest those in urban areas who do not have the required legal documents. If arrested, the penalty is a fine of $170, and imprisonment in over-crowded prisons pending return to Meheba Settlement.
Hardships in the remote rural refugee Settlement and insecurity through unaffordable immigration requirements in urban areas have a damaging effect on refugee psychological well-being and family life.
Rwandan former refugees find it hard to find school fees especially for secondary education, and talented school leavers end up being subsistence farmers in Meheba, or unemployed in Lusaka. A major setback has been the reduction of support for tertiary education by the German Government under DAFI. Most of the many Rwandan former refugee professionals in Zambia achieved their qualifications through DAFI support. New Rwandan former refugee students ceased to be sponsored by DAFI when they lost their refugee status in 2013. Currently 45 refugee students of various nationalities are sponsored by DAFI, but for the 2015 academic year only five new refugee students have been selected from 32 applicants because of shortage of funds. This has an adverse effect on young talented refugees’ morale, as very few will find the resources to pay the high cost to obtain diplomas or degrees, especially in the medical and teaching fields, which ensure ready employment.
Former Rwandan refugees have initiated a ‘cut one tree, plant two’ program in the past two years. More than 4000 seedlings have been planted in the area of senior Chieftainess Nkomesha Mukamambo II in Chongwe, who is a firm supporter, and a prototype two bedroomed house has been built with walls and tiled roof made from local materials. A rice and soya bean plantation program has been initiated in the area of another supporter, Senior Chief Mumena of the Kaonde people in Solwezi.
The former Minister of Home Affairs, the Hon Edgar Lungu MP, who had promised Rwandan and Angolan refugees local integration in April 2013, is now the President of Zambia. He said to a large gathering of Rwandan former refugees in the Holy Cross Cathedral in Lusaka on the day of Cessation, 2013, ‘The most important thing is that we are not going to force repatriation. That must be very, very clear.’ Rwandan former refugees who feel frustrated over delay in their local integration thank him for listening to them. They remain hopeful that with government support they will continue to make Zambia their home.
* Rt Revd. John Osmers is Assistant Anglican Bishop of Lusaka, Zambia. Email: [email protected]
* THE VIEWS OF THE ABOVE ARTICLE ARE THOSE OF THE AUTHOR AND DO NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT THE VIEWS OF THE PAMBAZUKA NEWS EDITORIAL TEAM
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