The World

Repatriation Roils Rwandan Refugees in Uganda

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Rwandan refugee women in Uganda face particular hardships under a repatriation push that started in April, with a July 31 target date for completion, a local advocacy group finds. Second of three stories on women and the repatriation turmoil.



Rwandan child in Ugandan refugee camp.

KAMPALA, Uganda (WOMENSENEWS)--Rwanda's post-conflict recovery has a number of impressive signposts.

One is the economy, which grew at an annual rate of about 11 percent last year, according to the country's national bank.

Another is the political empowerment of its women. In 2008, Rwanda elected the world's first majority-female parliament and today a woman leads the country's Supreme Court. One third of the cabinet of President Paul Kagame is female.

Most recently is the April agreement--among Rwanda, Uganda and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees--to target July 31 as a date to repatriate over 30,000 Rwandan refugees in Uganda. It's a sign that the three authorities consider Rwanda sufficiently stable and prosperous enough to begin closing the country's post-genocidal chapter.

But Moses Crispus Okello, head of research and advocacy at the Refugee Law Project, a nongovernmental organization in Kampala, finds little consolation is these milestones, particularly not the new repatriation target date.

Okello says repatriation is alarming for refugees and that women have special economic, health and safety concerns.

Most Rwandan refugees live in four large settlement camps in southwestern Uganda. However, others have made lives for themselves in Uganda's urban centers, such as Kampala.

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U.N. Withdrawing Support

The repatriation process began in 2003, but was not taken seriously, according to Uganda's Office of the Prime Minister. Now the Office of the Prime Minister has said that transportation to Rwanda will not be guaranteed for refugees who leave after the July 31 target deadline. The U.N. will also begin withdrawing support for Rwandan refugees in the camps in August, according to the Tripartite Agreement, which means a disruption in routines that many refugees have been following for years.

Okello says domestic violence could rise and women will lose financial security as they leave the land they have been farming at the camps, which gave their families a source of income.

During the transition back to Rwanda, they could be particularly vulnerable to high rates of poverty, since many women returning to Rwanda have described difficulty in accessing the land their families left behind, he says.

Another major concern is that Rwandan women--disproportionately vulnerable to HIV in the camps due to sexual violence--might lose access to the free antiretroviral drugs the Ugandan government provides through public hospitals and clinics.

Although Rwanda runs public programs that distribute the drugs free of charge, many women fear that their access to the medication will be interrupted as they move through the transit camps and back to their former homes.

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