Research associate LAM-Les Afriques dans le Monde
In April 2013, a Ministerial Meeting on the Comprehensive Solutions Strategy for Rwandan Refugees was held in Pretoria, South Africa, in order to « bring proper closure to the situation of Rwandan refugees (…) and to secure appropriate durable solutions for them ». Several follow-up meetings aimed at implementing concrete procedures in that regard. In September 2016, a meeting between the UNHCR, delegations from African countries hosting Rwandan refugees and the African Union led to an agreement to conclude the process and implement the cessation clause regarding refugee status held by Rwandans. Rwandan refugees who arrived in Uganda between 1959 and 31st December 1998 are affected by the cessation of their refugee status that was supposed to take place on the 31st December 2017. The other ones who arrived later are theoretically not concerned by it but this has created a huge concern among the Rwandan refugees with regards to the consequences this cessation clause can have on their own situation.
A hopeless situation
The history of Rwandans seeking refuge in Uganda dates back to several decades. In 1959-60, and then again in 1963-63 and 1972-73, Tutsis flew in order to escape persecution. The oldest Rwandan settlement in Uganda, Nakivale, was established in 1960. In the aftermath of the genocide, between 1994 and 1998, Rwandans arrived massively in Uganda and in the neighboring countries to seek asylum. Since then, Rwandans have continuously arrived and asked for asylum in Uganda, due to the constant political tensions in Rwanda. People flee the country in greater numbers before the elections, especially the ones belonging to groups that are specifically at high risk: journalists, human rights activists, or civil society activists. In the meanwhile, relations between Uganda and Rwanda have been going through ups and downs. Rwandans have been considered thorough the years as scapegoats by the Ugandan government, creating strong bitterness among the Ugandan population.
For the people concerned by the cessation clause, four different solutions have been proposed: voluntary repatriation, local integration, refugee status exemption for the ones who are still in need of international protection, and cessation of refugee status. Reality is de facto limited to two solutions: cessation clause for refugees who have obtained their status between 1959 and 31st of December, 2017, or refugee status exemption, for the ones who can prove that they are still at risk in case of return to Rwanda. To the ones concerned by the cessation clause, there are indeed few solutions available once they are not anymore under protection of UNHCR. They can either go back to Rwanda, which is not considered as a safe place by many Rwandan refugees or asylum seekers, or stay in Uganda, at the risk of being considered of alien.
For most of the Rwandans we spoke with, repatriation is not seen as a realistic solution. The reasons that have led to their flight are still not solved, starting with land issues which first feed resentment, bitterness and even violence among the population, and second prevent people to access their main subsistance means. In the aftermath of the genocide, land has been reallocated and internally displaced people, or people coming back to their origin village, have cultivated land that was belonging to people who flew the genocide. Once these latter ones came back, they had difficulties to prove the rightness of their claim regarding land belonging. Moreover, land issues are feeding disputes and using supposed responsibilities during genocide in order to grab land is common.
The second choice is a tricky one, it is indeed difficult to obtain Ugandan citizenship. The meeting leading to the decision of implementing the cessation clause was supposed to « proactively identify solutions ». The Ugandan government proposed to « provide an alternative legal status to those refugees choosing to locally integrate ». There is no such solution available for the Rwandan refugees who would like to stay in Uganda. They cannot access the right to obtain citizenship which would be the legal status to obtain once their refugee status is disclosed. Uganda is known to be « the best place to be a refugee ». Citizenship laws theoretically enable persons having been on the Ugandan soil for more than ten years to ask for citizenship. Persons having the refugee status are a special case as they are not allowed to become Ugandan citizen, neither by registration nor by naturalization. This is not only a denying of their rights as refugees, it also constitutes a clear discrimination as they do not access the same rights than foreigners living in Uganda. Together with the Ugandan government, UNHCR has to be sure that it is possible for the Rwandan refugees who decide to stay. This starts by the obtention of legal papers allowing full rights in Uganda and accessing full citizenship. Resettlement, often presented as an alternative solution by the signatories of the agreement, is not available to Rwandan refugees because their country of origin is not at war anymore. Nevertheless, the lack of security in Uganda for Rwandans should be taken seriously, and in that respect, resettlement should be enforced as a durable solution for them.
A thread extending to the whole Rwandan refugee community
Rwanda has been widely presented these last years as a success story regarding the way it has been able to pick itself up. It is considered as a booming economy, praised for its Parliament with the highest world percentage of women MP and at the spearhead of an ecological-oriented development. Safety is supposed to be secured, streets cleanness are highly spoken by the visitor, exemplified by the ban on plastic bags. Nevertheless, there are constantly important numbers of refugees fleeing the country, with peaks when presidential elections approach, linked with the repressive nature of the Rwandan State. All the refugees we met consider that Rwanda is not a safe place for them to return. Even if not concerned directly by the cessation clause, they all share fears regarding its implementation and the consequences it bears on their own lives, and consider that it misrepresents the political situation of Rwanda. Continuer la lecture de Implementation of the cessation clause : a useless mechanism, a motive of insecurity