Rwanda and UN refugee agency agree to step up repatriation efforts

7 October 2011

The United Nations refugee agency and Rwanda today announced steps to speed up a solution for tens of thousands of Rwandan refugees, one of the lasting legacies of the genocide in which extremist Hutus killed some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in the African country in 1994.

On the margins of the annual session of the Executive Committee of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Geneva, agency and Rwandan Government representatives agreed to call a meeting of all relevant States and other actors in December to achieve increased voluntary repatriation and find greater opportunities for local integration or alternative legal status for refugees in countries of asylum.

Some 100,000 Rwandans, mainly Hutus, fled to the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in 1994, with some of them joining the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) rebel group, which the UNHCR has accused of committing atrocities, including attacks on civilians and villages, rape and other rights abuses that forced hundreds of thousands of local people to flee their homes.

But in 2009, with a gradual containment of FDLR and improved relations between the DRC and Rwanda that culminated in a summit between their respective presidents Joseph Kabila and Paul Kagame, the first in 13 years, talks began on the return of refugees in each other’s countries. Since then, UNHCR has been urging Rwandans to repatriate, a call that has seen an increasing number of rebels surrender.

Among components of the steps announced today in a joint communiqué, UNHCR will recommend to States that they invoke the cessation of refugee status by 31 December 2011, to become effective on 30 June 2012, so as to facilitate progress on resolving the issue.

Cessation is a clause in the 1951 Refugee Convention whereby the condition of a refugee can end under clearly defined conditions, such as when fundamental changes in the circumstances that led to the refugee situation have occurred in the country of origin.

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