Rwandan Refugees Face Uncertain Future

Guest post by Barbara E Harrell-Bond. Barbara is Director of The Fahamu Refugee Project in Oxford.

The Fahamu Refugee Programme has mounted a campaign to oppose States and UNHCR withdrawing the protection of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees from tens of thousands of Rwandan refugees currently in exile. 

These are not people escaping retribution from the 1994 genocide, they are those who have been fleeing Rwanda since, some quite recently, including large numbers of genocide survivors, who were never refugees before, as well as government officials and army officers, because of instability, ethnic strife, arbitrary judicial procedures, indiscriminate retaliation, political violence, intolerance of dissent, impunity, and lack of accountability.


Fahamu has been gathering the endorsements of hundreds of individuals and organizations in Africa and around the world to a petition opposing exercise of the Convention’s “cessation clause,” and will present the statement and advocate for them at the upcoming meeting of the UNHCR’s Executive Committee October 3-7, in Geneva.  Today, Fahamu released a Memorandum of Fact and Law compiling devastating conclusions from major human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch on the general human rights situation in Rwanda, dozens of specific recent examples of persecution of various targeted groups in the Country, the stringent requirements of international law for cessation, and compelling personal testimonies of several Rwandan refugees and their protectors.

Forcible repartriation

Cessation is a drastic measure that would strip refugees of their legal rights and expose them to forcible repatriation and the risk of persecution.  It can also split up families and break economic and social ties of years’ duration and put those whose ‘political opinion’ differs from that of their government at serious risk. It should therefore only be invoked rarely and with extreme caution when there has been

1) a fundamental and profound change in country conditions such that they no longer have a well-founded fear of persecution,

2) the change is demonstrably enduring and not merely transitory, and

3) the change enables refugees to enjoy the protection of the government.


Rwanda has made much progress since the genocide but it did not do so through reliable constitutional, democratic, and peaceful means.  It remains a fragile, volatile, authoritarian regime with little tolerance for dissent, freedom of speech, or independent human rights observation, reporting, or advocacy.  Social and political fissures remain unresolved and the Government of Rwanda maintains an overtly hostile attitude toward its citizens who have fled.  Positive changes need time to consolidate and genuine national reconciliation remains untested.

Now, as both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have warned, is not the time to revoke protection from Rwandan refugees. JCWI would encourage all it’s members and supporters to sign the petition.

About jcwi

Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants is a key campaigning voice in the field of immigration, asylum and nationality law and policy. It is completely independent from government funding, remaining entirely free from government influence. View all posts by jcwi

5 responses to “Rwandan Refugees Face Uncertain Future

  • Dr. Joseph Mullen

    The political economy of refugee status and asylum seeking of displaced Rwandese populations currently in the RDC, as well as the Hutu led secessionist movements needs to be distinguished from the core concept of refugee status. In many European countries where fromer genocidaires and their sympathisers have been stripped of refugee status in the courts. There is no reason why a similar process should not be considered for the same groups in the DRC

  • Dr. Barbara E. Harrell-Bond

    True, it is not necessary for the Rwandan government to insist on the return of all Rwandans who have legitimate reasons to fear further persecution to get their hands on those that are alleged genocidairs, It is unusual for them to seek asylum anyway. Rwanda could ask host countries to take those they suspect to court, even request their extradition. Using the law would probably cost less then all their trips around the world attempting to persuade refugees to return.

  • Dr. Joseph Mullen

    The issue of refugee status is part of a wider picture and it has to be judged if Refugee status is not a contributing factor to the destabilisation of the Eastern DRC.
    There is a lack of attention to the ethnic dimension of atrocities, particularly sexual violence and the victims of militia actions such as .the Banyamulenge often allegedly carried out by Hutu extremists of the FDLR,( the rump of the old Rwandese army who carried out the genocide in 1994) and Mai Mai militia (who are known to support the DRC’s armed forces). The absence of governance in the rural areas of North and South Kivu still remains a festering wound in the genocide saga, which MONUSCO has been patently unable to effectively address. It appears as unfinished business of the Rwandan genocide.In MONUSCO’s place should stand a tripartite regional force of Rwanda, Burundi and the DRC, with UN logistics support and an effective mandate to eliminate all genocidaire elements of the region. The presence of the International Criminal Court should be brought to bear more heavily on regional actors, in addition to the actions it has already initiated. The international community, particularly the EC should address further the issue of former Hutu genocidaires now living in Europe (France, Belgium and UK) often under the guise of asylum and who actively support the FDLR (Hutu Genocidaires) operations in the Congo. The ethical issue of corporate governance affecting the trading of minerals procured illegally from Eastern DRC is indirectly linked to the administrative chaos which makes rape with impunity possible. This is a crucial area in which the UN has a powerful role to play with international corporations. The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on the DRC should also continue to be proactive in pursuing and publicising these issues under the Westminster Government dispensation. A review of refugee status, is inter alia, a key instrument in governance improvement in teh region.

  • Lambert Habiyaremye

    It’s amazing what’s going on! Thanks FAHAMU. We rwandans feel betrayed by the whole world. Where are those other bodies that are supposed to be on our side know? Where is the democratic european union? where is the tolerating UK which is supporting the rwandan government? Is it only FAHAMU and REPORTERS WITHOUT BORDERS who should be on our side and speak for the slain rwandans? Should rwandans be taken to their slaughter again while everybody else is watching what is happening and doing nothing? where are the RED CROSS, the SAVE THE CHILDREN, the democratic governements of the world. Are you all not supposed to provide some hope to the hopeless of Rwanda? Are you not supposed to help convince the UNHCR to withdraw this cessation clause?

    With the situation in Rwanda, how can the UNHCR which is supposed to protect rwandan refugees now turn a blind eye on them? The UNHCR officers don’t seem to realise how precarious the rwandan situation is. A lot of people have been playing with fire in the Great lake region, including various international leaders who have supported the Kagame regime which actually represents a small minority of Rwandans. How can the UNHCR now play by this regime’s rules knowing what it does to its own citizen?

    It needs to be told worldwide that the rwandan government is a government that murders its own citizens. I come from rwanda so I know this. Although much of the killings are done secretively both inside and outside rwanda. It’s been happening for many years but, only now the world is starting to know. We, the citizens of that country know better. No one else, be it UNHCR or any body else need to tell us when rwanda is peaceful. We will know that it is peaceful before anyone else does.

    If rwanda is peaceful, why would a rwandan live so poorly in a refugee camp in UGANDA knowing that he could go to his country and do his own farming or look for a job? Wouldn’t all rwandan refugees in Africa return to their country if it was really peaceful and democratic? I have been to some of the African countries where rwandan refugees live in appalling situations. These people would have returned to Rwanda (whith their own transport fare) a long time ago if they agreed that their country was safe to return to. Infact the UNHCR meetings or cessation clause wouldn’t have been necessary.

  • Lambert Habiyaremye

    Some of the arguments appear to talk about FDLR. most of us rwandans don’t care about FDLR or Kagame or any other rwandan leader. We just want to live peacefully. If you want FDLR, these are soldiers they need military solution to be addressed. So, will the cessation clause make them return to Rwandan? I am asking a question. These guys including the regime; they are all a small minority in Rwanda. The majority of rwandans are tired of this kind of argument. The politicians both in power and in opposition just need to talk among themselves rather than bring about insecurity. The UNHCR shouldn’t get involved in political or military issues. They just need to protect the vulnerable and leave politics and justice to politicians and judges.

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