The Government of Rwanda has adopted among the most progressive policies worldwide to support refugee self-reliance. This enabling environment includes refugees having freedom of movement and the right to work. The Government has also promoted the financial inclusion of refugees through explicit reference to refugees in the National Financial Inclusion Strategy of Rwanda.
There are a number of international, regional and domestic legal instruments that include mechanisms which are availed to enhance rights and legal protection of refugees. The refugees as subjects of international law have right to protection including safety, security and protection. The host State has the obligation to take all the necessary measures to ensure the protection of refugees as well as their well-being.
Like other countries, Rwanda has the obligation of protecting, and ensuring the respect of the rights of refugees in living on her territory. Among other rights, refugees have a right to work. The below outlines the legal framework for the right to engage in wage-earning employment, self-employment and liberal professions for refugees in Rwanda.
Rwandan law vis-à-vis the right to work/employment for refugees
Rwanda is a signatory to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees as well as other international human rights instruments and based on article 18 of the Law n°13ter/ 2014 of 21/05/2014 relating to Refugees which stipulates that “Without prejudice to other laws, any person having obtained refugee status in Rwanda shall enjoy the rights and liberties provided for by international instruments on refugees ratified by Rwanda”. It can be inferred that the right to work for refugees recognized under these international instruments is also recognized under Rwandan laws.
The right to work for refugees under international law
International instruments recognize the right to work for refugees, and encourage States to facilitate refugees on their territory in this regard. Specifically, the 1951 Convention relating to the status of refugees provides under article seventeen paragraph one that “The Contracting States shall accord to refugees lawfully staying in their territory the most favorable treatment accorded to nationals of a foreign country in the same circumstances, as regards the right to engage in wage-earning employment”.
Paragraph two of the same article goes ahead to state that “In any case, restrictive measures imposed on aliens or the employment of aliens for the protection of the national labor market shall not be applied to a refugee who was already exempt from them at the date of entry into force of this Convention for the Contracting State concerned, or who fulfills one of the following conditions:
(a) He has completed three years’ residence in the country;
(b) He has a spouse possessing the nationality of the country of residence. A refugee may not invoke the benefit of this provision if he has abandoned his spouse;
(c) He has one or more children possessing the nationality of the country of residence.
Further, paragraph 3 of the same article provides that “The Contracting States shall give sympathetic consideration to assimilating the rights of all refugees with regard to wage-earning employment to those of nationals, .….”
Once someone is accorded the status of a refugee in Rwanda then he/she has the right to access employment like any other national apart from a positions where it may be specified that they are meant for nationals such as public employment.
Based on the fact that refugees in Rwanda would be treated as nationals with regard to accessing employment, other rights and benefits that go with the right to work which apply to Rwandans will also apply to refugees in work. This is also in line with the provisions of article 24 of the 1951 Convention relating to the status of refugees which states that “The Contracting States shall accord to refugees lawfully staying in their territory the same treatment as is accorded to nationals in respect of the following matters:
(a) In so far as such matters are governed by laws or regulations or are subject to the control of administrative authorities: remuneration, including family allowances where these form part of remuneration, hours of work, overtime arrangements, holidays with pay, restrictions on homework, minimum age of employment, apprenticeship and training, women’s work and the work of young persons, and the enjoyment of the benefits of collective bargaining;
(b) Social security (legal provisions in respect of employment injury, occupational diseases, maternity, sickness, disability, old age, death, unemployment, family responsibilities and any other contingency which, according to national laws or regulations, is covered by a social security scheme)…”
As refugees should be treated as nationals with regard to opportunities and benefits in accessing and executing work, they (refugees) would also be bound by the same obligations like Rwandans such as paying taxes, etc.