Zimbabwe: Rwandan refugees resist repatriation

More than 500 Rwandan refugees residing at Tongogara Refugee Camp are resisting repatriation despite assurances from the office of the UNHCR that it was now safe for them to return home, the Financial Gazette reports.

Efforts to repatriate the refugees follow a UNHCR meeting held in Geneva last year where a secession clause was adopted whereby all Rwandan refugees and asylum seekers across the globe are to be repatriated from December 31 this year.

Under the secession clause, United Nations member States hosting Rwandan refugees have to comply with the declaration.

The repatriation exercise mainly targets refugees from Rwanda who fled their home country at the height of the 1994 genocide against Titsi; the ensuing bloodbath claimed more than 1000 000 lives within 100 days, according to CNLG.

In her maiden tour of the refugee camp last week, Minister of Public Service, Labour and Social Services, Prisca Mupfumira, said Zimbabwe was bound by the secession clause and is therefore entrusted to repatriate all Rwandan refugees residing within the country’s borders.

“In as much as we would want to help, it should be known that this is the position of the UN and not Zimbabwe, that come 31 December all Rwandans have to go (back home) unless there are individuals with special reasons that we might have to look at. But generally, our hands as a country are tied. We have to comply,” she added.

Rwandans at Tongogara Camp are not happy to repatriate

Speaking to the Financial Gazette, Rwandans indicated that they were aware of the UN position, but were not yet prepared to return home.

Philip Sindayigaya, Rwandan community leader, argued that nothing had changed in their home country that warrants their return, alleging current government of Kigali to be still involved in atrocities against the Hutus.

“… our position is clear: No one here wants to return home. We want to stay in Zimbabwe because what we ran from (retribution) is still there,” said Sindayigaya, adding that they had written to Mupfumira and President Robert Mugabe on the issue.

“We have been appealing for Zimbabwean citizenships, we have noted that other nationals have benefited or resettled and we want similar treatment. You should know that every Rwandan here ran from different problems back home, but the UN is generalising our problems. So we are very worried and heartbroken about this issue.

“There are still problems in our home country and as I speak more people are still seeking refugee elsewhere,” he added.

Another Rwandan, Sameri Kaimba, said when he fled to Zimbabwe, he came alone and sired seven children who have Zimbabwean birth certificates.

This, Kaimba argued, would cause more problems for him when he is repatriated back home with his Zimbabwean born children.

Jean Damacene Nkurikiyimana raised similar concerns. “Many have been here for more than 20 years. Children were born here so what should we do? I came here in 2003 with three of my children and I now have three more children. Their birth certificates are from Zimbabwe. And our position is that we don’t want to go back home, never! As long as the (current) government is still there, we will never go back there.”

The resistance against the secession clause came after another failed attempt to repatriate the Rwandans in 2013. The refugees have initiated a “go-and-see first” exercise where they send people to their home country to assess the political atmosphere there. This would then be used to inform their next move regarding their return home.

Records from Tongogara Refugee Camp indicate that Zimbabwe, which is home to more than 10 000 refugees from across the continent, is still receiving applications from more Rwandan refugees despite the impending repatriation deadline. Tongogara Refugees Camp administrator, Meshack Zengeya, said Hutus form the majority of the 564 Rwandese at the camp.

Jean Baptiste Karegeya









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