By Rebecca Harshbarger
Sunday, July 5, 2009
By July 31 Rwandan refugees in Uganda are supposed to return to a homeland that suffered genocide 15 years ago. One woman says she can't comply, not after the killing of her family and loss of her land. First of three stories on repatriation turmoil.
KAMPALA, Uganda (WOMENSENEWS)--In April, Uganda, Rwanda and the United Nations High Committee on Refugees set a target date of July 31 for all Rwandan refugees in Uganda to return home, with the U.N.'s refugee commission planning to reduce support for remaining Rwandans in August.
The closer that date gets, the more it worries Beatrice Mukasekuru, who has asked that her real name not be used to protect her privacy.
Mukasekuru is among the roughly 2 million refugees who have fled from Rwanda since the genocide to neighboring Uganda, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
"We are rejected in this country, but we can't go home," said Mukasekuru. "People must realize the consequences of what they are doing to the Rwandese in Uganda."
Mukasekuru says she will find no justice or peace in Rwanda, but diplomats say such fears are unwarranted.
"Rwanda is now peaceful enough to accept them," H.E. Kamali Karegasa, Rwanda's ambassador to Uganda, told Women's eNews in an exclusive interview recently. "And it's now safe for them to return. There is no persecution, people can go back and get their property. They can acquire their former houses, which are found in good condition."
The United Nations High Committee on Refugees supports refugee camps throughout Uganda, which have been overwhelmed recently with refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and is working with the Ugandan and Rwandese governments to repatriate the remaining Rwandan refugees.
It's been 15 years since the end of the Rwandan genocide, but Mukasekuru doesn't want to leave Uganda, where she fled to in 2006.
Mukasekuru is a member of the Hutu ethnic group, which primarily lives in Rwanda and Burundi. During the Rwandan genocide, Hutu extremists killed between 800,000 and 1,000,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus.
She said that nine members of her family--including her parents, who were civil servants, and her siblings--were among those killed.
After the death of so many family members, Mukasekuru said she was displaced from the country when the Rwandan government seized her family land.
She said she appealed to the local judiciary to reclaim her land but found no justice.
Instead, Mukasekuru says she received violent threats from people who were occupying the land and felt forced to flee the country. She says she is too haunted by memories of her family members' killings, as well as the loss of their land, to return.
Mukasekuru applied for refugee status in Uganda as soon as she got here, but was denied asylum by the refugee commission and Uganda, both of which cited Rwanda's success in reconstruction and reconciliation of the country.
But feeling too terrified to return, she has lived illegally in Kampala since then, doing casual work such as cleaning the veranda of a nearby mosque. Without being granted asylum, it is difficult for her to access any type of social services in Uganda. For instance, she was asked to show proof of asylum when she went to the police station to report harassment.
She has hidden in the shadows, afraid of being deported back to Rwanda.
She says she is often harassed in Kampala by Ugandan men for being Rwandese. She was also abducted this year for a month by a Ugandan man who raped her repeatedly for weeks before she escaped.
"As a refugee, you are abused in the country you escaped and the country you to escape to," said Mukasekuru. "I was abducted, sexually abused, things you can't talk about in public."
She testified about this at a recent event on refugees and sexual violence organized by the Refugee Law Project. Mukasekuru then spoke with Women's eNews in her home, where she showed the rejection letter to her application for asylum.
Knowing that she faces forcible deportment in Kampala, Mukasekuru hopes to either repeal her asylum case or find refuge in Tanzania, if she can raise the funds to go there.
Rebecca Harshbarger is a journalist based in Kampala, Uganda.
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