THE UNHCR ZAMBIA: “AN AFFRONT TO VOLUNTARY REPATRATION OF RWANDAN REFUGEES AND FORMER ONES LIVING IN ZAMBIA.” – BY NISHIMWE RICHIE LIONEL

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BY NISHIMWE RICHIE LIONEL (IGCSE/LLB, HONS.)

Rwandans say that ‘evil is always unspectacular and humane-it shares our bed and eats at our table.

The UNHCR in partnership with other agencies of Refugees’ concern promote three “durable solutions” to the fate of legally-recognized refugees by the International Legal Regime namely-:(i)Voluntary Repatriation, (ii)Resettlement and lastly- (iii)Local Integration.
However, this paper will focus on the impediments the UNHCHR Protection Office and in particular Miss JOYCE MALUNGA have put in place to stall the voluntary repatriation of Rwandan Refugees.

Voluntary Repatriation.

In this case, legal refugees seek to return to their home/native country at their own volition because their lives and liberty are no longer threatened on the claims on which their Refugees Status was sought.

The aforesaid decision need not to be coerced in any way whatsoever. Most of the world’s refugees wait for durable solutions for their predicament.

LIONEL NISHIMWE WITH FIRST PRESIDENT OF ZAMBIA KENNETH KAUNDA
LIONEL NISHIMWE WITH FIRST PRESIDENT OF ZAMBIA KENNETH KAUNDA

While most have been granted provisional or temporary asylum in neighboring countries, they are not able to regularize their status or integrate. Their rights to move and work are often highly restricted, and educational and recreational opportunities are often nonexistent or severely lacking. These refugees may also be subject to attack, either by local security forces as Rwandan Refugees experienced in the recent unjustified Xenophobic Attacks by ordinary Zambians or by cross-border incursions from the country of origin.

Joyce Malunga has chosen to deny Rwandan Refugees their right to Voluntary Repatriation by siding with Rwandan Refugees Leaders whenever one asks to be accorded this durable solution.As far as the Law is concerned-there is no basis for her to do so and actually as the UNCHR Protection Officer. Her role ought to be facilitating the return of Rwandan Refugees to their home country where they independently wish to do so, not to act as a barrier of the aforesaid.

This conflict of interest shown in her conduct is a blatant failure on the part of the International Community to execute their part knowing very well that Rwanda has put in place conducive measures to ensure a safe return of all Rwandan Refugees living in exile and particular those in Zambia as evidenced by various testimonies of those who were invited to come to Rwanda and analyze the whole situation independently.

Pursuant to the 2013 Refugee Cessation Clause approved by the Zambian Government,
All Former Rwandan Refugees are required to subject themselves to the jurisdiction of the Rwandan Government directly or indirectly since they are no longer a concern of the UNCHR by law nor otherwise.

For those who ought to be locally integrated-they must first of all possess a Rwandan Passport as Zambian Immigration Law makes the possession of such a document to constitute a condition precedent before one is legally integrated in the Zambian community.
They may remain wherever they desire but one the condition that they are Rwandan and no longer under the pretext of a false shield of UN Refugee Status which cannot be substantiated by competent authorities of competent jurisdiction.

Furthermore, The other faction is welcomed to return to Rwanda where their rights will be guaranteed and evidence has shown that the Rwandan Government has put in place mechanisms to ensure their safe return, protection and assistance once they arrive in Rwanda.

Actually, there is no arguable basis for Rwandans to continue being Refugees and the durable solution above must be highly promoted given that Rwanda has become a model nation on economic development and the promotion of the rule of law and other democratic tenets-where ordinary Rwandans are constantly afforded the opportunity to have a real say/contribution in matters of daily governance and national interest.

The questions are; Who are Refugees and how is Refugee Status determined?

Generally, A refugee is a person who is outside their home country because they have suffered (or feared) persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or because they are a member of a persecuted social category of persons or because they are fleeing a war. Such a person may be called an ‘asylum seeker ‘until recognized by the state where they make a claim.

Furthermore, The 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees has adopted the following definition of a refugee (in Article 1.A.2):
[su_quote]Any person who : owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.[/su_quote]
While the definition in the Refugee Convention has been used by international organizations such as the United Nations, the term continues to be misunderstood and is often used inconsistently in everyday language.

Media stories, for example, often confuse refugees with people migrating for economic reasons (“economic migrants”) as in the case of Former Rwandan Refugees living in Zambia covered by the 2013 Cessation Clause on the UN Refugee Status who are no longer a concern of the UNCHR and persecuted groups who remain within their own country and do not cross an international border (“internally displaced persons”).

Other Article by the same author:  WHAT SHOULD THE ZAMBIAN GOVERNMENT DO FOR AND TO RWANDAN REFUGEES UNDER THEIR CARE AND PROTECTION?

Definitions come into play when countries and organizations attempt to determine who is and who is not a refugee.

Asylum seekers—that is, those who are seeking refugee status in another country– normally need to establish individually that their fear of persecution is well-founded and undergo a legal procedure in which the host country decides if she or he qualifies for refugee status.

However, during a mass exodus, it may not be possible for a host country to carry out individual screening. In such circumstances, particularly when civilians are fleeing for similar reasons, a ‘group’ determination of refugee status may be declared, whereby each civilian is considered a refugee, in the absence of evidence to the contrary.

The aforesaid is the case of most Former Rwandan Refugees whose Refugee Status was given en masse as most of them were fleeing the civil and political strife that Rwanda experienced in the wake of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

They were deemed to possess a well-founded fear of being persecuted by the Zambian Government of flimsy grounds and were granted the UN Refugee Status as such without thorough inquisition and scrutiny from the UNCHR Protection Office as it were.
International law recognizes the right to seek asylum, but does not oblige states to provide it as one would expect of the Zambian Government.

Nations at times offer ‘temporary protection’ when they face a sudden mass influx of people and their regular asylum systems would be overwhelmed-this was supposed to be applied by the Zambian Government in the case of Rwandan Refugees who sought their care from the year 1994 onwards but they intentionally chose to take the insidious route which is likely to leave them with “stateless persons”.

In such circumstances people can be speedily admitted to safe countries, but without any guarantee of permanent asylum.

Thus ‘temporary protection’ is helpful to both governments and asylum seekers in specific circumstances. Yet it only complements and does not substitute for the wider protection measures offered by the Refugee Convention.

Five thousand people died here. Most of them clubbed, hacked, stabbed or shot to death. Their unburied bones are gathered and displayed at memorial centres all across Rwanda.
Five thousand people died here. Most of them clubbed, hacked, stabbed or shot to death. Their unburied bones are gathered and displayed at memorial centres all across Rwanda. Photo Credit : DFID.

Given the delicacy in the circumstances and facts that led to the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda-Zambia was required by International Law and Custom to treat most Hutu Assylum-seekers as “persons of special concern” given that some of them were directly involved in the atrocious massacres that brought a nation to her knees as was seen in the later years.

Failure to do so only showed how ill-advised the Zambian Government and the UNHCR were and given the gravity and sensitivity of the Rwandan situation-it is expected of these two bodies to rectify their past deeds by applying the right law where it ought to be done.

Over the years, many independent observers have argued that Rwandan Refugees living in Zambian are mere economic migrants for most of them shun refugee camps for business opportunities in major cities-most of them settling in the Capital City Lusaka.

This was further illustrated in the recent xenophobic attacks directed at them which meant that the local population was displeased by their growing influence in Zambian commerce.
It is not wrong for them to venture into business but let them do so as Foreign Rwandan Nationals, not Refugees for the two terms are totally different in most aspects.

They must pay all business taxes like others Foreigners living in Zambia and only Zambia is to benefit from this regulation and as for Rwanda-the prayer is that this lie ought to come to an end for there is no basis for it to continue being propagated.

The UNHCR should look beyond their continued presence in Zambia if we are to fight a solution to this crisis-to them more Rwandan Refugees living in Zambia means more funding but at what cost?

Miss Joyce Malunga (Adv/H.C.Z) ought to live up to the oath she took as a Zambian Legal Practionner.

Otherwise, Her incessant harassment of those Rwandan Refugees living in Zambia who seek to be voluntarily repatriated is an affront to justice and unethical to say the least.

BY NISHIMWE RICHIE LIONEL (IGCSE/LLB, HONS.)-RWANDAN REFUGEE LAW COMMENTATOR.
[email protected]

CITATIONS.

  • Feller, Erika, Volker Türk and Frances Nicholson (eds.), Refugee Protection and International Law: UNHCR’s Global Consultations on Refugee Protection, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
  • Goodwin-Gill, Guy, The Refugee in International Law, Second Edition, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996.
  • Hathaway, James C., The Law of Refugee Status, Toronto: Butterworths, 1991.
    The 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.

Other Article by the same author:  WHAT SHOULD THE ZAMBIAN GOVERNMENT DO FOR AND TO RWANDAN REFUGEES UNDER THEIR CARE AND PROTECTION?

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