UNHCR and Rwanda seek enduring solution for protracted refugee situation

News Stories, 20 October 2009

© UNHCR/F.Fontanini
Some young Rwandan refugees stare at visitors in eastern Congo. UNHCR will work to bring back the remaining refugees.

KIGALI, Rwanda, October 20 (UNHCR) UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres and Rwanda's President Paul Kagame agreed here Tuesday to work towards resolving the country's protracted refugee problem by the end of 2011.

"I have no wish for anyone to live like a refugee," Kagame told Guterres, who is here on an official visit to review UNHCR's operations and to discuss a proposed road map that the High Commissioner described as "a proper and effective conclusion" of the refugee situation.

The road map, which will include specific actions and benchmarks, is part of an initiative by UNHCR to push for the closure of the refugee chapters in Rwanda, Burundi, Angola and Liberia. It ultimately will entail invocation of the cessation of refugee status clause for exiles of these countries. Guterres discussed this on Monday with Local Government Minister Christopher Bazivamo.

The two sides also looked at possible measures to boost repatriation, implement effective reintegration solutions and deal properly with the residual protection cases for those who will remain in exile. "The Government of Rwanda reiterated its commitment to receive all Rwandan refugees who opt to return to their motherland," said a joint communique, adding that programmes and mechanisms had been put in place to absorb these refugees.

Millions of people, mainly ethnic Hutus, fled Rwanda after the bloody ethnic conflict of 1994. Since then, 3.4 million refugees have returned, including at least 300,000 with help from UNHCR. But 60,000-65,000 Rwandans still live in asylum countries, including Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and Uganda.

The government has long called for the cessation of refugee status, saying peace has returned to the country and refugees have nothing to fear. Guterres stressed that UNHCR would work with Rwanda and other stakeholders, including host countries, to resolve the problem. "We will help every Rwandese to return and reintegrate in safety and dignity," he pledged.

He encouraged more voluntary repatriation and called upon Rwanda to establish effective reintegration activities. The process could be accelerated by mass information campaigns to ease the fears of those considering return before the cessation clause is invoked.

The High Commissioner said this would include "go-and-see" visits, so that refugees could judge the situation for themselves and then tell their families and friends.

UNHCR, Rwanda and host countries will regularly meet to discuss progress before cessation is declared and to explore ways of encouraging refugee returns over the next two years. This will include meaningful reintegration assistance packages and special attention to people with specific needs.

Guterres said he was particularly concerned about the situation of Rwandan refugees in eastern DRC, where their human rights were threatened because of continuing conflict. He said the unstable situation was also preventing people from going back home from the DRC.

During his visit to Rwanda, Guterres is also holding meetings with the donor community, heads of UN agencies and NGOs to explain the timetable for cessation and to win support for a common approach. He is scheduled to meet Congolese refugees at Nyabeheke camp in the eastern province of Gabitso before flying to Uganda to attend an historic African Union summit on forcibly displaced people.

By David Nthengwe in Kigali, Rwanda




Internally Displaced People

The internally displaced seek safety in other parts of their country, where they need help.

Second Dialogue on Protection Challenges, December 2008

An informal discussion among stakeholders about protracted refugee situations.

The High Commissioner

Filippo Grandi, who took office on January 1 2016, is the UN refugee agency's 11th High Commissioner.

Related Internet Links

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Sri Lanka: IDPs and Returnees

During Sri Lanka's 20-year civil war more than 1 million people were uprooted from their homes or forced to flee, often repeatedly. Many found shelter in UNHCR-supported Open Relief Centers, in government welfare centers or with relatives and friends.

In February 2002, the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) signed a cease-fire accord and began a series of talks aimed at negotiating a lasting peace. By late 2003, more than 300,000 internally displaced persons had returned to their often destroyed towns and villages.

In the midst of these returns, UNHCR provided physical and legal protection to war affected civilians – along with financing a range of special projects to provide new temporary shelter, health and sanitation facilities, various community services, and quick and cheap income generation projects.

Sri Lanka: IDPs and Returnees

UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

As a massive food distribution gets underway in six UNHCR-run camps for tens of thousands of internally displaced Congolese in North Kivu, the UN refugee agency continues to hand out desperately needed shelter and household items.

A four-truck UNHCR convoy carrying 33 tonnes of various aid items, including plastic sheeting, blankets, kitchen sets and jerry cans crossed Wednesday from Rwanda into Goma, the capital of the conflict-hit province in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The aid, from regional emergency stockpiles in Tanzania, was scheduled for immediate distribution. The supplies arrived in Goma as the World Food Programme (WFP), with assistance from UNHCR, began distributing food to some 135,000 displaced people in the six camps run by the refugee agency near Goma.

More than 250,000 people have been displaced since the fighting resumed in August in North Kivu. Estimates are that there are now more than 1.3 million displaced people in this province alone.

Posted on 6 November 2008

UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

Since 2006, renewed conflict and general insecurity in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo's North Kivu province has forced some 400,000 people to flee their homes – the country's worst displacement crisis since the formal end of the civil war in 2003. In total, there are now some 800,000 people displaced in the province, including those uprooted by previous conflicts.

Hope for the future was raised in January 2008 when the DRC government and rival armed factions signed a peace accord. But the situation remains tense in North Kivu and tens of thousands of people still need help. UNHCR has opened sites for internally displaced people (IDPs) and distributed assistance such as blankets, plastic sheets, soap, jerry cans, firewood and other items to the four camps in the region. Relief items have also been delivered to some of the makeshift sites that have sprung up.

UNHCR staff have been engaged in protection monitoring to identify human rights abuses and other problems faced by IDPs and other populations at risk across North Kivu.

UNHCR's ninemillion campaign aims to provide a healthy and safe learning environment for nine million refugee children by 2010.

Posted on 28 May 2008

UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

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