History, plight, challenges of Rwandan refugee integration in Zambia

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Between April and June 1994, an estimated 800,000 Rwandans were killed in the space of 100 days.

Most of the dead were Tutsis – and most of those who perpetrated the violence were Hutus.

Even for a country with such a turbulent history as Rwanda, the scale and speed of the slaughter left its people reeling.

The genocide was sparked by the death of the Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu, when his plane was shot down above Kigali airport on 6 April 1994.

A French judge has blamed current Rwandan President, Paul Kagame – at the time the leader of a Tutsi rebel group – and some of his close associates for carrying out the rocket attack.

Mr Kagame vehemently denies this and says it was the work of Hutu extremists, in order to provide a pretext to carry out their well-laid plans to exterminate the Tutsi community.

 

 

Whoever was responsible, within hours a campaign of violence spread from the capital throughout the country, and did not subside until three months later.

But the death of the president was by no means the only cause of Africa’s largest genocide in modern times.

Ethnic tension in Rwanda is nothing new. There have been always been disagreements between the majority Hutus and minority Tutsis, but the animosity between them has grown substantially since the colonial period.

The two ethnic groups are actually very similar – they speak the same language, inhabit the same areas and follow the same traditions.

However, Tutsis are often taller and thinner than Hutus, with some saying their origins lie in Ethiopia.

During the genocide, the bodies of Tutsis were thrown into rivers, with their killers saying they were being sent back to Ethiopia.

 

When the Belgian colonists arrived in 1916, they produced identity cards classifying people according to their ethnicity.

The Belgians considered the Tutsis to be superior to the Hutus. Not surprisingly, the Tutsis welcomed this idea, and for the next 20 years they enjoyed better jobs and educational opportunities than their neighbours.

Resentment among the Hutus gradually built up, culminating in a series of riots in 1959. More than 20,000 Tutsis were killed, and many more fled to the neighbouring countries of Burundi, Tanzania and Uganda.

When Belgium relinquished power and granted Rwanda independence in 1962, the Hutus took their place. Over subsequent decades, the Tutsis were portrayed as the scapegoats for every crisis.

This was still the case in the years before the genocide. The economic situation worsened and the incumbent president, Juvenal Habyarimana, began losing popularity.

At the same time, Tutsi refugees in Uganda – supported by some moderate Hutus – were forming the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), led by Mr Kagame.

Their aim was to overthrow Habyarimana and secure their right to return to their homeland.

 

Habyarimana chose to exploit this threat as a way to bring dissident Hutus back to his side, and Tutsis inside Rwanda were accused of being RPF collaborators.

In August 1993, after several attacks and months of negotiation, a peace accord was signed between Habyarimana and the RPF, but it did little to stop the continued unrest.

When Habyarimana’s plane was shot down at the beginning of April 1994, it was the final nail in the coffin.

Exactly who killed the president – and with him the president of Burundi and many chief members of staff – has not been established.

Whoever was behind the killing its effect was both instantaneous and catastrophic.

 

“RWANDAN REFUGEE INTEGRATION IN ZAMBIA REQUIRES THE RETURN OF THE REFUGEE STATUS.”

1.Rwandan former refugees welcome the durable solution of local integration in Zambia.

They have consistently refused the durable solution of repatriation to Rwanda for their “well-founded fear of persecution.”

The offer of local integration shows the Zambian government is listening to Rwandan refugees and acknowledges the same fear of persecution.

The durable solution of Rwandan refugee resettlement was blocked by the United Nations High Commissionner for Refugees(UNHCR) because of the cessation of Rwandan refugee in June 2013.

 

2.However local integration may not be the durable solution hoped for.

This is because it is tied to two potentially damaging requirements:

 

(A)First,Rwandan local integration is tied to the possession of a Rwandan government passport necessary for Zambian immigration permits.

Possessing the passport confirms that the recipient renounces refugee status,and becomes a “normal migrant” in Zambia,like a newly arrived Polish or Chinese migrant.

It confirms that the Rwandan migrant no longer fears persecution,but recognizes Rwanda as a safe country to return to at any time.

The passport costing US$ 100 will need to be renewed three times in the ten year waiting period for a Zambian residence permit.

Failure by the Rwandan government to issue or renew a passport will oblige the Rwandan migrant to return to Rwandan within a certain period as an illegal migrant.

(B).It is common knowledge that the R.P.F ‘Tutsi’-dominated Government wants ‘Hutu’ exiles to return for security purposes,to be under their control.

Rwandan refugees note the efforts made by the Rwandan Government to promote their repatriation and the acceptance of Rwandan Government passports.

These include “Go and see come and tell” programmes began in 2004 and reinstated recently in December 2014 and March 2015.

Refugee leaders Louis Ukulikiyeyesu in 2004 and Egide Rwasibo in 2015 returned with negative reports about the country.

Two Rwandan Government delegations visited Zambia in July 2013 and October the same year,both of which were boycotted by Rwandan refugees.

(C).Second,Rwandan local integration is tied with the requirements of Zambian immigration permits.

A self-employed Rwandan migrant will need to show US$ 25,000 capital.A Rwandan migrant may not receive an employment permit if the employment offered can be done by a Zambian national.

Similarly the Rwandan Student will need to pay high cost “economic” fee paid by any Foreign Student.

Failure to fulfill these immigration requirements may compel the Rwandan migrant to return to Rwanda.

No one will show concern because the Rwandan migrant already has their passport for return.

3.For the reasons above,the acquisition of a Rwandan Government passport for Zambian immigration permits can make Rwandan local integration in Zambia uncertain and unpredictable.

Rwandan Government passports may or may not be renewed,and Zambian immigration permits for various reasons may or may not be issued or renewed as required.

The many years the Rwandan migrant may have lived in the country will not be regarded.Then ten years necessary for a residence permit will be counted only from the date of the first issue of an immigration permit.

 

4.Many Rwandan exiles will consider it inadvisable to possess a Rwandan Government passport even if it may mean forced return to Rwanda.

Forced return would arouse much concern both in Zambia and abroad.It would be seen as a contravention of article 33 of the 1951 Geneva Convention which specifically forbids forced repatriation.

(Zambia ratified the 1951 Geneva Convention and 1967 Protocal in September 1969.The Zambian Deputy Minister of Home Affairs stated at the March Tripartite meeting that failure to take a Rwandan Government passport will result in forced repatriation.This appears to contravene with Article 33(1) and Interpretation of Terms Article 1(C)(1) of the Convention.)

 

5.The Rwandan former refugee community may therefore consider it advisable to ask for the return of refugee status.

This was taken away from them by the Tripartite Agreement between the Governments of Rwanda and Zambia and the UNHCR in 2003,and made effective in June 2013.

If the Rwandan exile retains refugee status the refugee will live a secure life in Zambia without fear of forced return to Rwanda.

If the Government of Zambia removes the reservations of freedom of movement and freedom of employment made when signing the 1951 Geneva Convention,the refugee will be able to live a fairly normal life,as happens in other countries in the region.

 

6.The Zambian Patriotic Front(P.F) Government has hitherto shown much consideration for Rwandan ‘Hutu’ former refugees who have until recently considered themselves valued and safe in this country.

Unless they can have their refugee status returned,they may consider their continued stay in Zambia unpredictable and insecure.

They believe the cessation of their refugee status,finally effected without their agreement in June 2013 was done in bad faith,not for their welfare,but under pressure from the Rwandan Tutsi-led Government.

The cessation was recommended by the UNHCR and effected by those States which agreed to do so.

According to the inter-Ministerial meeting in Pretoria in April 2013,some States declined to effect it,and others deferred their decision.

European states have declined to effect it on the grounds that Rwanda has not made fundamental and permanent changes necessary for the ‘cessation of refugee status’.

The Zambian Government can agree to continue the cessation,or to revoke it for the time being,without United Nations High Commissionner for Refugee(UNHCR) concurrence.

To revoke it for the time being would give credibility to the Zambian Government offer of local integration as a durable solution,giving refugees the assurance of security that they need.

Zambia was the first and only country to initiate widespread legal interviews to review Rwandan refugee status in 2011,in preparation for the cessation that was deferred a number of times until June 2013.

They were totally flawed.

Requirement that refugees being interviews should have ‘legal representation’ was ignored,and the interviews were so organized that almost every Rwandan failed to convince the Lawyer interviewing them of their “Well-founded fear of persecution upon returning to Rwanda.”

Emphasis was given to the situation prevailing in Rwanda rather than focusing on an evaluation of the applicant’s statements.(Guidelines found in the 1951 Convention(Page 11)).

Valid reasons for retaining refugee status were ignored.Rwandan refugees appealed against the negative decisions,and their appeals still lie on the Minister’s table.This gives them the sense that their refugee status has not been irrevocably terminated as would happen should they have taken the Rwandan Government passports.

By Lionel Nishimwe

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4 COMMENTS

  1. Zambia is not xenophobic but will have to see to it that all foreigners live here with complete immigration documents, regardless of where they come from and context with which they entered into the country. The immigration arrangement, all over the works ensures the citizenly security and national integrity. The foreigners are also protected when they live legally by the host foreign country and through the international conventions.
    And for the case of Rwandan refugees, their Government has done all it takes to facilitate them. The Government of Rwanda has repeatedly expressed readiness to provide them with passport so the Government of Zambia could legalize their stay. The two Governments have worked in close collaboration to finding a lasting solution, and the Government of Rwanda has sent numerous delegations including Government Ministers to discuss with the refugees.
    It is a well-known fact that the Rwandan refugees in Zambia are kept hostage by few, elite and economically better of individuals who committed genocide in Rwanda in 1994. These are the core leaders who would do what it takes to convince the rest to agree to the plea by their own government to get the national identity documents and be facilitating to either stay in Zambia or decide to go back to their home country. Understandably so, if the refugees go back home, these genocidaires will have no basis to rumor around. They will have no one to shield them against international justice.
    There could also be economic reasons. It is perhaps easy for the refugees to maneuver an easy life here than in their home country, big land, evade taxes, corrupt other people…..
    Whatever the standing is back home, your Government is ready to help you. Please follow the immigration procedures. The way you are putting it here, everyone is bad, but you – the Zambian government, the UN- HCR, your own Government!!!

    • Mr Mwansa, I don’t know what position you hold in the Zambian government but I want to tell you that your comment is short of fairness because you sound like a member of the Rwandan Tutsi-led government. It is sad to realised from your own words that you ignore the meaning of a refugee and as if you are from another planet. How on earth can you accuse refugees of having commited genocide without any proof? Haven’t you ever met any Zambian soldier who was in Rwanda a year after the 1994 genocide and ask him what kind of soldiers the Rwandan government have? I’m glad that not all Zambians tjink like you on yhis issue.

    • Zambia is not xenophobic but will have to see to it that all foreigners live here with complete immigration documents, regardless of where they come from and context with which they entered into the country. The immigration arrangement, all over the works ensures the citizenly security and national integrity. The foreigners are also protected when they live legally by the host foreign country and through the international conventions.
      And for the case of Rwandan refugees, their Government has done all it takes to facilitate them. The Government of Rwanda has repeatedly expressed readiness to provide them with passport so the Government of Zambia could legalize their stay. The two Governments have worked in close collaboration to finding a lasting solution, and the Government of Rwanda has sent numerous delegations including Government Ministers to discuss with the refugees.
      It is a well-known fact that the Rwandan refugees in Zambia are kept hostage by few, elite and economically better of individuals who committed genocide in Rwanda in 1994. These are the core leaders who would do what it takes to convince the rest to agree to the plea by their own government to get the national identity documents and be facilitating to either stay in Zambia or decide to go back to their home country. Understandably so, if the refugees go back home, these genocidaires will have no basis to rumor around. They will have no one to shield them against international justice.
      There could also be economic reasons. It is perhaps easy for the refugees to maneuver an easy life here than in their home country, big land, evade taxes, corrupt other people…..
      Whatever the standing is back home, your Government is ready to help you. Please follow the immigration procedures. The way you are putting it here, everyone is bad, but you – the Zambian government, the UN- HCR, your own Government!!!

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