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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