As end of refugee status approaches, UN working to ensure proper closure for Rwandans

Nyagatare transit centre, a focal point for Rwandan returnees and Congolese refugees from Bukavu

28 June 2013 – The United Nations refugee agency said today it is working closely with concerned Governments to bring to a proper closure the situation of Rwandans who fled their country before 31 December 1998, as the recommended end date for their refugee status approaches on Sunday.

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), '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,” UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards explained to reporters in Geneva.

In the case of Rwanda, UNHCR has recommended that cessation come into effect from 30 June 2013.

In October 2009, the agency announced a strategy for bringing the situation of these refugees to a proper closure. The strategy contains four components: voluntary repatriation, local integration, retention of refugee status for people still in need of international protection, and the invocation of the cessation clause.

Mr. Edwards said that all the major asylum countries hosting the Rwandan refugees, as well as Rwanda itself, have been implementing the strategy and 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,” he stated.

“All are indeed pursuing the respective components of that strategy, including local integration – namely the grant[ing] to the Rwandan refugees who would qualify [of] alternative legal status, including the prospect of naturalization.”

More than 3.5 million Rwandans became refugees in the wake of the 1994 genocide and armed clashes in north-western 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, Republic of Congo, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

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