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.

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Clarifications Sought on Repatriation Process

The Refugee Law Project recommends that the Ugandan government and U.N. clarify the voluntary nature of the repatriation and inform refugees about alternative options if they are unwilling to return to Rwanda.

Despite the general prevalence of peace in Rwanda--and diplomatic assurances of protection for those returning--individual refugees have legitimate concerns about their safety, the project said in a recent press statement.

It also pressed the U.N. to continue assistance for refugees who decide to stay, particularly since all Rwandan refugees in the camps have been advised to stop farming.

Over 2,800 Rwandan refugees were repatriated as of July 10, according to the country's Office of the Prime Minister.

But the Refugee Law Project and news reports say that many of those have reversed course and come back to Uganda, citing poverty, loss of their families' land and fear of being wrongly accused of genocide.

Most of the refugees in the Ugandan camps are Hutu, the ethnic group whose leadership helped plan and execute a genocide that killed between 800,000 and 1 million Tutsis and moderate Hutus in 1994.

Charges of False Accusation

"In the past, the Rwandan government has accused the refugees in Uganda of being genocidaires," said Okello. "Some unscrupulous people also used the courts that were trying genocide suspects to amass property of those who had left Rwanda, linking them to the genocide. When they returned, they would accuse them of genocide in order to possess their land."

Return should be voluntary, according to Uganda's 2006 Refugee Act.

Individuals who fear ethnic or political persecution back in Rwanda may appeal their cases to the U.N. and the Refugee Eligibility Committee, based in Kampala, which has representatives from the two countries.

H.E. Kamali Karegasa, Rwanda's ambassador to Uganda, acknowledges that refugees are fleeing the camps and doing what they can to avoid repatriation.

Press reports describe people posing as refugees from the ongoing conflict in eastern Congo, while others try to bribe local Ugandan officials to pass as Ugandan citizens. According to some reports, up to 20 people a day have been fleeing the Nakivale refugee camp, anticipating the July 31 deadline.

"We are aware of these people, but we are encouraging them to go home," Karegasa said. "For many who have gone back, they have been welcomed by their communities."

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Rebecca Harshbarger is a journalist based in Kampala, Uganda.

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