Failure of Forced Repatriation and Protection of Rwandan Refugee

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Peace Studies Association of Japan 2018 Autumn Package Session

Re-examining the Refugee Protection and Repatriation: A Case Study of Rwandan Refugees

Failure of Forced Repatriation and Protection of Rwandan Refugees


President of Former Rwandan Refugee Committee in Zambia



Keywords: fear, forced repatriation, genocide, protection, insecurity



It has been 28 years since the war started in October 1990 by the rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which has massacred millions of Rwandans. The subsequent genocide in 1994 caused more than two million people to flee mainly to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Tanzania. In 2003, the Tripartite Agreement on promotion of voluntary repatriation of refugees was signed between the UNHCR, and Rwandan and Zambian governments. Since then until June 2013 when cessation clause of Rwandan refugees’ status was invoked, about fifty out of 5,000 refugees repatriated from Zambia under the UNHCR-organised repatriation; in other words, only one percent of refugees returned. This cessation of refugee status is controversial as Rwandans continue to flee the country. Refugees fear that cessation clause was enforced on behalf of the Rwandan government which wants to repatriate refugees in order to control them.


1. Why former Rwandan refugees refuse to repatriate?

The majority of former refugees have refused to repatriate mainly due to two reasons. First, we, former refugees, mainly majority-group Hutu, continue to have strong fear and mistrust of the minority Tutsi-led RPF as we witnessed how it has massacred millions of civilians since 1990 in Rwanda, the DRC and other countries of asylum. Even after the end of genocide, the RPF massacred in 1995 at least 4,000 Internal Displaced Persons (IDP) at Kibeho IDP camp, according to the UN Australian troops. My uncle’s brother-in-law was one of the victims. Additionally, Rwandan government agents have been deployed to Zambia, South Africa, Uganda and the UK, allegedly to assassinate, attack and threaten Hutu/Tutsi refugee intellectuals and refugee businessmen. I myself was almost kidnapped with other former Rwandan refugees; I was saved thanks to the intervention by the Zambian security forces. All these crimes by the RPF were recorded by the UN, other organisations and journalists. 

  Second, there is no reconciliation between Tutsis and Hutus, the latter of whom have been discriminated and intimidated as Interahamwe (originally born as youth wing of former President Habyarimana, which has said to participate in the 1994 genocide) by the former. Some refugees who repatriated in 2005 under the UNHCR-organised repatriation, later returned to Zambia as they did not feel safe in Rwanda because some returnees and their relatives were allegedly arrested or disappeared, and their properties were grabbed and occupied by the RPF. Victoire Ingabire, an opposition party leader, was accused of committing the law on “genocide ideology”,mentioning merely that both Hutu and Tutsi victims have to be rememberedand, and has been imprisoned since October 2010. Every April, there is genocide commemoration for Tutsis at their memorials, but no memorials exist for any Hutu victims as Hutus have been accused of having committed genocide. In July 2013, President Kagame said at the youth meeting in Kigali that Hutu youths must apologise to Tutsi for the crimes committed by their parents, and later launched “I am a Rwandan” program. All these actions and laws are contradictory to the reconciliation efforts.


2. Problems of protection

Regarding protection, there are three main problems. First, we believe that Rwandan have been unfairly treated by some UNHCR officers who tend to perceive Hutu refugees as genocidaires (genocide killers). While some Angolan refugees, who refused to repatriate even after their refugee status was ceased in 2012, had enjoyed assistance from UNHCR until 2015, assistance to Rwandan was stopped in 2008 prior to the invocation of cessation clause.

  Second, as a result of invocation of cessation clause in 2013, about 4,000 Rwandan refugees in Zambia had been stateless until 2018 when they started to be locally integrated; former refugees were first given permanent residence, followed by naturalization at later stage. We feel that UNHCR abandoned us prematurely before obtaining legal documents other than Rwandan passports (see below). This lack of legal documents led to arrests by the immigration officials. In 2016 when the shops owned by the Rwandan refugees were attacked and looted allegedly by the Rwandan agents, we were unable to report to the court due to the lack of legal documents. 

  Third, in 2015, we felt more insecure when the Zambian Government announced that former Rwandan refugees must obtain Rwandan passports in order to be locally integrated. Although the refugees and local churches totally objected to this requirement of applying passports, which were a means to allow the Rwandan Government to surveil and control refugees, the UNHCR strongly supported the need of passport. Fortunately in 2017, this requirement was waived by the Zambian government. 

  I hope there will be permanent protection to former refugees with the ongoing local integration in Zambia. 



  • Pickard, T. Combat Medic: An Australian’s Eyewitnesses Account of the Kibeho Account,Wavell Heights, Big Sky Publishing, 2008.
  • Rever, J. In Praise of Blood: The Crimes of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, Random House Canada, 2018.
  • Umutesi, M.B. Surviving the Slaughter: The Ordeal of a Rwandan Refugee in Zaire, Univ of Wisconsin Press, 2004.
  • UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Report of the Mapping Exercise documenting the most serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law committed within the territory of the Democratic Republic of the Congo between March 1993 and June 2003, 2010, Aug. 2010.