Government of Uganda has no immediate plans to repatriate refugees of Rwandan origin back to their country, which is currently considered to be peaceful; officials have said.
The Disaster Preparedness Minister, Eng. Hilary Onek, who is in charge of refugees in the country, came out to dismiss media reports earlier this week that government was planning to close the status of Rwandan refugees in Uganda.
The media reports cited a recent meeting between EALA MPs on the Committee on Regional Affairs and Conflict Resolution, with Prime Minister Dr Ruhakana Rugunda as well as Sector Ministers responsible for refugees.
During the meeting, Government was asked to explain why Uganda still keeps Rwandan refugees when Rwanda is peaceful and having the fastest developing economy in Africa.
Minister Onek in a statement however, clarified that Uganda is not ready at this moment to send back Rwanda refugees, many of who have been here for decades, whereas others continue pour in seeking asylum.
“It is not correct to report that Uganda is set to eject or close refugee status of all Rwandan Refugees,” the minister stated.
“Uganda is cognizant of International Refugee Law, more so, the provisions of article 33 of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention that prohibits expulsion or return of a refugee in any manner whatsoever, to the frontiers of territories where their life or freedom would be threatened.”
Uganda was supposed, at the start of this year, to terminate the refugee status of thousands of Rwandan refugees in the country, as required by the UNHCR through its proposed cessation clause for Rwandan refugees.
As per the clause which was announced in October 2009, starting January 1st 2018, all Rwandans who fled the country from 1959 to 1998 were to lose their refugee status and require no more international protection “because fundamental and durable changes in their country of origin guarantee that there is no well-founded fear of persecution.”
In Uganda, the Rwandans affected by this clause (those who arrived between 1959 and 1998) are only 4000, which is a small fraction of the total 14,313 Rwandan refugees in the country.
According to Minister Onek, Uganda still didn’t implement the UN cessation clause because of a number of reasons which were communicated to UNHCR.
First, the minister said, Uganda currently lacks a framework that provides alternative legal status to Rwandans for those who may not be willing to return home.
“The constitutional provisions and the immigration laws are not very favourable to refugees’ integration. The only viable alternative for refugee integration is under section 16 of the current Immigration Act, for naturalization,” he said.
Secondly, Onek said, Uganda is yet to conduct exemption procedures to establish if among the group, there are any in need of continued international protection.
“It’s only after this exercise to qualify that we would know who (a) To be subjected to the Ugandan Immigration Laws and which status to accord such persons. (b) Seek alternative durable solutions to other affected persons.”
Majority of the Rwandan refugees in Uganda have over the years showed no interest in returning to their mother land.
In 2003, Governments of Uganda, Rwanda and UNHCR signed a Voluntary Repatriation Agreement, a framework through which, to facilitate and promote voluntary return of Rwandan refugees from Uganda.
Under this arrangement however, only 850 refugees had accepted to return home by last year.
Yet majority of them, upon reaching home, returned back to Uganda almost immediately citing insecurity and human rights violations in Rwanda.
According to Minister Onek, Uganda continues to receive and process asylum applications for individuals seeking asylum from Rwanda, in accordance with Ugandan Law and International Law.
“The asylum space is not closed for Rwandan asylum seekers, like any other person seeking asylum in Uganda,” he said.