Most of them, around 9,200, have lost their refugee status, revoked because it was deemed that they no longer face persecution in Rwanda
PIC: The UN refugee agency has repatriated a first group of 100 people from the Central African Republic from Betou. But many Rwandans in the camp are deeply reluctant to go home. (Credit: AFP)
RWANDA | UNREST | MINORITIES
DR CONGO - "They are telling me to go. Go where? What would I do back there? Everyone's dead," says Gilbert Bigirimana, an 18-year-old Rwandan living in DR Congo who has never set foot on Rwandan soil.
Bigirimana is among thousands of Rwandans who, a generation after the Rwandan genocide, are living in a void, adrift in their host country and fearful of returning home.
Most of those in limbo are Hutus, who fled the country after leaders of their ethnic group orchestrated the mass slaughter of minority Tutsis before being ousted by a Tutsi-backed campaign.
Many first headed to the neighbouring DR Congo.
But two wars - a ghastly repercussion of the Rwandan genocide - forced thousands further west to the Republic of Congo, also called Congo-Brazzaville, a small country of about five million people.
Today, many of this group, and their descendants, live in chronic uncertainty.
Most of them, around 9,200, have lost their refugee status, revoked because it was deemed that they no longer face persecution in Rwanda.
As refugees, under international law, they had enjoyed specific protection by their host state and could not be forcibly returned to their home country.
Brazzaville's decision, criticised by Congolese aid groups, to strip them of their refugee status took effect on December 31, 2017.
"Those who did not get an exemption are now considered to be undocumented on Congolese soil," the Brazzaville government stated recently.
Jean-Claude Kourouma, the UN refugee agency's bureau chief in Betou, a city in northern Congo that took in nearly 1,900 Rwandan refugees last year, said no perpetrators of the genocide could have obtained refugee status.
Around 100 Rwandans decided to return home before the New Year's Eve deadline, while others have returned since.
Five families have taken steps to become Congolese, beginning with applying for Rwandan passports, which would in turn allow them to seek citizenship here, Kourouma said.