Ending of refugee status for Rwandans approaching

Briefing Notes, 28 June 2013

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 28 June 2013, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

In October 2009, UNHCR announced a strategy for bringing to proper closure the situation of Rwandan refugees who fled their country before 31 December 1998. The strategy contains four components: voluntary repatriation, local integration, retention of refugee status for people still in need of international protection, and finally the invocation of the so-called cessation clause.

Cessation clauses are built into the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1969 Organization of African Unity Refugee Convention. They provide for refugee status to end once fundamental and durable changes have taken place in the country of origin and the circumstances that led to flight no longer exist. In the case of Rwanda, UNHCR has recommended that cessation come into effect from 30 June 2013.

All the major asylum countries hosting the Rwandan refugees, as well as Rwanda itself, have been implementing the strategy and following a Ministerial meeting on 18 April 2013 in Pretoria, they have agreed to apply cessation at different rates.

This means that some states are moving ahead with giving effect to cessation of refugee status while other governments in view of domestic legal and practical constraints prefer to push forward the other components of the strategy first. All are indeed pursuing the respective components of that strategy, including local integration-- namely the grant to the Rwandan refugees who would qualify alternative legal status, including the prospect of naturalization.

UNHCR is working very closely with all the Governments and other stakeholders concerned, including, the refugees themselves, on the implementation of the different aspects of the strategy beyond 30 June 2013.

More than 3.5 million Rwandans became refugees in the wake of the 1994 genocide and armed clashes in northwestern Rwanda in 1997 and 1998 the last time the country experienced generalized violence. All but an estimated 100,000 have since returned home, owing to lasting peace and stability in their country.

The 100,000 Rwandan refugees are hosted mainly by Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, the Republic of the Congo, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

In line with its mandate, UNHCR is working to solve protracted refugee situations in Africa. Cessation of refugee status for Sierra Leonean refugees took place in 2008 and for Angolan and Liberian refugees on 30 June last year.

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UNHCR country pages

Keeping Busy in Rwanda's Kiziba Camp

Rwanda's Kiziba Camp was opened in December 1996, after the start of civil war in neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The facility was constructed to help cope with the influx of tens of thousands of Congolese refugees at that time. Some of the refugees have since returned to their homes in eastern DRC, but about 16,000 remain at the remote hilltop camp located in the Western province of Rwanda. Fresh violence last year in DRC's North Kivu province did not affect the camp because new arrivals were accommodated in the reopened Kigeme Camp in Rwanda's Southern province. Most of the refugees in Kiziba have said they do not want to return, but the prospects of local integration is limited by factors such as a lack of land and limited access to employment. In the meantime, people try to lead as normal a life as possible, learning new skills and running small businesses to help them become self-sufficient. For the youth, access to sports and education is very important to ensure that they do not become sidetracked by negative influences as well as to keep up their spirits and hopes for the future.

Keeping Busy in Rwanda's Kiziba Camp

The suffering and strength of displaced Congolese women

During the ceaseless cycle of violence in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, it is the vulnerable who suffer the most, especially women and children. The issue of widespread sexual and gender-based violence is a major concern for UNHCR, but it never goes away. The refugee agency has received dozens of reports of rape and assault of women during the latest wave of fighting between government forces and rebel troops as well as militia groups in North and South Kivu provinces. It is an area where rape is used as a weapon of war.

The fear of sexual and physical violence forces thousands of women to seek refuge away from their homes or across the border in countries such as Rwanda and Uganda. Often their menfolk remain behind and women become the heads of household, looking after young children. They are the bedrock of society, yet they are often the first to suffer when instability comes to their home areas.

The following images were taken recently in Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Uganda by Frédèric Noy. They depict Congolese women who have fled their homes, leaving almost everything behind, and sought shelter in a place they hope will be better than where they came from. In many ways they have become inured to hardship, but so many of them continue to retain hope for themselves and their children. And that is an inspiration to those who help them.

The suffering and strength of displaced Congolese women

Kigeme: A home carved from the hills for Congolese refugees

The Kigeme refugee camp in Rwanda's Southern province was reopened in June 2012 after thousands of Congolese civilians started fleeing across the border when fighting erupted in late April between Democratic Republic of the Congo government forces and fighters of the rebel M23 movement. Built on terraced hills, it currently houses more than 14,000 refugees but was not significantly affected by the latest fighting in eastern Congo, which saw the M23 capture the North Kivu provincial capital, Goma, before withdrawing. While many of the adults long for lasting peace in their home region, the younger refugees are determined to resume their education. Hundreds enrolled in special classes to help them prepare for the Rwandan curriculum in local primary and secondary schools, including learning different languages. In a camp where more than 60 per cent of the population are aged under 18 years, the catch-up classes help traumatized children to move forward, learn and make friends.

Kigeme: A home carved from the hills for Congolese refugees