Deported from Zambia, former Rwandan refugees choose to stay

Saturday September 15 2018

Refugee repatriation

A child boards a United Nations aircraft taking refugees back to their country of origin. Zambia has one of the largest Rwandan communities outside East Africa. PHOTO | NMG 

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Two former Rwandan refugees, Innocent Habumugisha and Egide Rwasibo, who were deported from Zambia in December 2015 on the grounds that they were working as spies for the Rwandan government and causing insecurity in Zambia, won a case in the Zambian High Court last week, with the judge ruling that their deportation was “unconscionable and unreasonable."

“The Minister of Home Affairs exercised his discretion without following the law, which required him to ask the two refugees to make written presentations to him before effecting the deportation,” the court ruled.

Documents from the court proceedings show that the defence had argued that the decision by the Zambian Ministry of Home Affairs to deport the duo put them at risk of “being persecuted back at home” since they had been welcomed into Zambia as refugees.

But Mr Habumugisha, a medical doctor, and Mr Rwasibo, a third-year student at Kigali Independent University, while happy with the decision, have decided to stay in Rwanda.

The case brought into focus the divisions among the Rwandan community in Zambia over some of its members’ purported roles in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, which the two deportees blame for their woes.

“There is a group of powerful and rich Rwandans in Zambia who have extreme views. Anyone who has different thoughts is accused of being a double agent working with the Rwandan government. That is how they bribed some authorities to get us deported illegally,” Mr Habumugisha told The EastAfrican in Kigali.

Trouble for the two men began in December 2015, when they were arrested in different locations in Lusaka, handcuffed and blindfolded and driven to the airport.

“I was found at my shop and arrested, and my refugee card was instantly taken without giving me any reason why. I had received a lot of threats from Rwandans in Zambia and felt unsafe. I feared being attacked,” Mr Habumugisha said.

“A few days earlier, four Rwandans had stormed my home and threatened to kill me and Rwasibo if we did not stop getting into Rwandan politics, and accused us of being spies.”

On arrival in Rwanda, the two men feared that they would be charged with genocide-related crimes by Rwandan authorities, but no charges were brought. At the time, Rwanda’s Prosecution Authority told the press that they were “free people” and faced no investigations.

When they learned that they were free in Kigali, they pursued a legal battle through their relatives back in Zambia and were last week granted a win by the high court against their deportation.

“The win is an indication that we were innocent and we are happy that the truth has finally come to light. We both decided to stay in Rwanda because it is our country and we don’t see ourselves as refugees anymore.”

Having left for Zambia with his parents and siblings at the age of nine in 1996, Mr Habumugisha secured a UNHCR scholarship, and later rose through the ranks to become the leader of the Rwandan community in Zambia between 2010 and 2015.

Zambia has one of the largest Rwandan communities outside of East Africa.

In May, Zambia granted temporary residence permits to 1,468 former Rwandan refugees, beginning a process aimed at integrating about 4,000 Rwandan refugees into Zambian communities.