By Moses Walubiri & Mayimunah Namulemo
Over 4000 Rwandans refugees will lose their refugee status in Uganda on Sunday as the cessation clause affecting Rwandans who fled tumultuous events that blighted their country between 1959 and December 1998 comes into effect.
Refugees to be affected are those that fled atrocities such as the fighting that saw the ouster of the monarch in 1958, the 1973 coup that saw the ouster of Gregoire Kayibanda, the 1994 genocide and the 1997 grisly incursions by interahamwe militias.
The cessation was disclosed by the minister for disaster preparedness, relief and refugees, Hillary Onek on Wednesday during a symposium themed "finding a comprehensive and durable solution for Rwandan refugees in Uganda," at Grand Imperial hotel Kampala.
"The reason behind the revocation of refugee status for this category of refugees is that events that led to their displacement no longer exist. Both government of Uganda and Rwanda have conducted sensitization campaigns aimed at encouraging this group of persons to return home. However, Rwandan refugees who trickled into Uganda between 1999 to-date will not be affected by the policy shift," clarified Commissioner of refugees, Apollo Kazungu, who clarified that government is not simply shutting doors to new refugee applications from Rwanda.
"We shall consider such applications on a case-by-case basis," Kazungu said, revealing that 10,000 Rwandan refugees have thus far been voluntarily repatriated.
In 2003, Kampala and Kigali, together with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) signed a tripartite agreement tailored to ensuring voluntary repatriation of Rwandan refugees without flouting international conventions on refugee protection.
Since then, the two governments in tandem with UNHRC have organized series of 'go see come and tell' visits where select refugees have visited Rwanda in order to encourage voluntary repatriation among their peers.
However, aware that many Rwandan refugees have developed deep roots in Uganda on account of being born here and getting married to Ugandans, the invocation of the cessation clause will also open avenues for local integration or alternative legal status like acquiring resident permits.
UNHCR country representative Mohammed Abdi though lauding Uganda for "giving quality asylum" to Rwandan refugees concurred with Prof. George Kanyeihamba's call to grant Ugandan citizenship to Rwandan refugees who have been in this country for more than 20 years.
Although the Immigration Act bars any refugee from acquiring Ugandan citizenship, the constitution provides for anyone (without exception) who has been in Uganda for more than 20 years to acquire citizenship on registration.
"Bring me any refugee who has been here for 20 years and has been denied citizenship and I will cause an interpretation of the constitution over this matter," Kanyeihamba said in response to submissions about the ambiguities on the legal regime on refugees in Uganda.
According to Rwanda's High Commissioner to Uganda, Frank Mugambage, Rwanda has already established three transit points for returnees where they will be given packages to last them three months.
Mugambage also said Kigali is open to issuing Identity Cards and passports to Rwandese refugees who are reluctant to go back home.
According to Kazungu, Uganda is hosting over 200,000 refugees in its eight refugee camps with 14,811 being Rwandese.
Over 4000 Rwandese to lose refugee status