Rwanda is planning a major crackdown on Congolese nationals, who have illegally acquired Rwandan national identification, an act that jeopardises their privilege as refugees.
Under the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) guidelines, refugees are supposed to get registered and acquire a refugee identity card that offers them refugee status in order to get full benefits which include shelter, food and protection, as “stateless persons” in need.
The Minister of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs (Midimar), Seraphine Mukantabana, recently told parliament that the ministry has asked the refugees to hand in the Rwandan identification, but none has done so claiming to have lost them.
Ms Mukantabana said “They (refugees) acquired these identifications illegally. We are going to start an investigation into those possessing the IDs and their refugee status will be revoked and we will send them back to their countries.”
The minister also said that this will be the same case with those who still possess Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) national identification, which undermines the efforts of government to treat them as stateless people in need.
A report by the Rwandan parliament on refugees status 2014/15 shows that some Congolese refugees managed to illegally acquire Rwandan IDs and while some still hold on to their Congolese National IDs which they use to benefit from government services and even travel back and forth respectively.
These cases have been cited among Congolese refugees especially those living in Kigeme camp, Nyamagabe district in the Southern province, part of the over 74,000 Congolese refugees who live in the camps of Kigeme, Gihembe, Nyabiheke, Kiziba and Nkamira.
Kigeme camp is one of the oldest camps holding Congolese refugees located on the highway between Butare and Cyangugu.
It is believed that the Congolese refugees got access to the Rwandan IDs using some their extended families in the Rwandan community, who were part of former Rwandan refugees returning to Rwanda and had settled in.
While some of these former refugees have been integrated into Rwandan communities, others still live double standards as refugees in camps and use the identification for other purposes.
A report presented to parliament indicated that some of the refugees were using both the Rwandan national identification and the UNHCR IDs and were benefiting from both the government and the UN agency support.
It has not been clear whether the refugees have managed to use the Rwandan national IDs for illegal practices but the some of the benefits of possessing the cards include access to government services such as acquiring driving permits, health services and education among others.
Byabarumwanzi François, the chairman of the parliamentary commission of unity, human-rights and fight against genocide said that there is evidence that the Congolese refugees move back to their home country and do business as usual and come back to Rwanda to benefit from their refugee status.
The Rwanda UNHCR communications office said that it was not aware of the developments but said that the ministry would be in position to explain the details. The UNHCR said that it does not confiscate a refugee’s identity documents from the country of origin when registering an individual.
“UNHCR’s position is that all pending Congolese asylum seekers should be registered only after they undergo the standard clearance process with the Government of Rwanda to check for a variety of factors which would include whether a person has a Rwandan ID, and how or under what circumstances the ID was obtained,” said Martina Pomeroy, the external relations officer at UNHCR Rwanda.
Old fraud cases
Experts says that for any foreign national to have access to Rwanda identification, they must either bribe the local leaders who certify their nationality or beat the computerised ID registration system operated by the National Identification Agency (Nida).
Rwanda Today has consistently sought comments from both the Mayor of Nyamagabe, Philbert Mugisha, and Nida director general, Pascal Nyamurinda, on how this could have happened in vain.
However the Frédéric Natwukuriryayo, the communication and public relations officer at Midimar says that these cases of illegal possession of the Rwandan national ID happened at time when there was no biometric identification technology system for both refugee and National IDs.
“These are old fraud cases. They might have acquired the identification out of ignorance and intent to benefit from the government. Currently that fraud is not possible with the introduction of the biometric registration,” Mr Natwukuriryayo said.
Mr Natwukuriryayo said that there is no specific plan to investigate these fraud cases as it requires a lot of logistics and redoing the biometric finger print search in the existing databases, but the government conducts a regular update on refugee statistics every two years and fraud cases have not been sighted from the recent one done in 2014.
“The fraud cases are not possible now and with the use of ICT we can easily identify these cases of fraud immediately. The intension however is be sure of the real numbers of refugees and in case they are honest, their refugee status can be reinstated,” Mr Natwukuriryayo added.