Refugees rush back home as status deadline looms

Sunday November 5 2017

Rwandan returnees on arrival at Gatuna border from Nakivale Refugee Camp in Uganda

Rwandan returnees on arrival at Gatuna border from Nakivale Refugee Camp in Uganda. PHOTO FILE | NATION 

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Rwanda is seeing a sharp increase in the number of returning nationals from the Democratic Republic of Congo as the deadline for the cessation of refugee status for Rwandan refugees draws closer.

Rwandan refugees have up to December 31 to either secure legal residency in host countries, return home or risk losing protection after the cessation date.

Repatriations from the Democratic Republic of Congo have increased from an average of 120 refugees per week in 2016 to more than 2,000 refugees per week over the past one month officials say.

This has seen the country receive over 11,000 returnees in the first eight months of this year compared with 5,580 in 2016.

“For the first time, we have received 5,412 returnees in just three months and we expect the number to keep increasing. We are making sure that we are prepared to receive all those who will have registered to return by the set deadline,” said Antoine Ruvebana, the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugees (MIDIMAR)

However, MIDIMAR officials say that while returnees from the DR Congo have increased, numbers from other major host countries such as Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique and Congo Brazzaville, among others, remain low.

Mass arrivals

Mr Ruvebana said the ministry was prepared for mass arrivals in the final weeks leading up to the deadline.

MIDIMAR recently introduced a new transit centre capable of accommodating 680 returnees in southern Nyanza District after the centres at Kijote and Nyarushishi got swamped by an influx of returning citizens.

Kijote, which is the initial destination for refugees coming back through Bukavu has a capacity of processing 250 people while Nyarushishi, on the North Kivu side, can handle 640 people.

Rwanda Today understands that a recent meeting in Geneva between Rwandan authorities, UNHCR and delegations from countries that host Rwandan refugees agreed to keep the December 31 deadline.

Some host countries had raised concern over the logistical and financial challenges involved in verifying individuals seeking exemption from the cessation clause as well as their naturalisation or integration in the host countries.

Invocation of the cessation clause means that the UNHCR will no longer be responsible for supporting Rwandan refugees. MIDIMAR officials also said this will put an end to incentives offered to returnees.