Last Updated: Friday, 19 January 2018, 17:46 GMT

World Refugee Survey 2008 - Rwanda

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 19 June 2008
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, World Refugee Survey 2008 - Rwanda, 19 June 2008, available at: [accessed 21 January 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

RWA figures


Rwanda hosted 54,200 refugees and asylum seekers, including roughly 51,300 from the Democratic Republic of Congo (Congo-Kinshasa) and more than 2,900 from Burundi. There were about 40 refugees and asylum seekers from other countries.

Most Congolese fled various waves of fighting in the 1990s and again from 2000 to 2003. Renewed conflicts in North and South Kivu Provinces in eastern Congo-Kinshasa prompted refugees to enter in late 2006. They lived in Nyabiheke, Kiziba, Nkamira, Nyagatare, as well as Gihembe camp in the north and Kiziba camp in the west, the last two hosting about 18,000 refugees each. Over 1,700 Congolese also lived in urban areas.

Burundian refugees fled to Rwanda mainly in 2005 due to fighting between the Burundian army and the National Liberation Forces (FNL). Most Burundian refugees lived in Kigeme camp in the south since the closure of Nyamure camp, but some 760 also lived in urban areas.

Refoulement/Physical Protection

In 2007, there were no reports of refoulement or targeted attacks against refugees or asylum seekers.

The Association of Young Congolese Refugees and agents of Congolese rebel leader General Laurent Nkunda recruited Congolese Tutsi refugees in the camps, including at least 11 children, to return to Congo-Kinshasa to fight with the false promise of civilian jobs. Most recruitment took place in the Kiziba and Byumba camps. The Government sent counselors to the camps and requested that refugees report such incidents.

The duration of Congolese refugees' stays in transit camps increased, causing more rape, domestic violence, prostitution, and sexually transmitted diseases.

Rwanda was party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (1951 Convention), its 1967 Protocol, and the 1969 Convention governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa (African Refugee Convention). It maintained a reservation to the 1951 Convention's freedom of movement provision and to the Protocol's offer of recourse to the International Court of Justice. The 2003 Constitution recognized a right of asylum, extended all rights it did not reserve for nationals to legal foreign residents, and established the supremacy of ratified treaties over statutory law. The 2001 Refugee Law applied a modified version of the refugee definitions of the 1951 Convention, including ethnic or tribal origins and "opinions divergent from national policies" among applicable grounds of persecution and the more general grounds of the African Refugee Convention. It did not, however, explicitly prohibit refoulement.

The 2001 Refugee Law approved the creation of a National Council for Refugees (CNR) made up of representatives from several ministries to make policy concerning refugees, to grant and revoke refugee status, and to ensure respect for refugees' rights. The CNR did not begin registering applicants and conducting status determinations until 2004, when Rwanda promulgated the 2001 law. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) adjudicated pre-2004 applications and counseled new applicants until 2006 when the CNR assumed full responsibility for them.

Asylum seekers had to report to the provincial or municipal authority closest to their point of entry and register with the closest immigration office within 15 days. The immigration office was to forward the file to the CNR within 15 days which was to decide claims within six months. Immigration officials, who were part of the security apparatus serving the military and intelligence service, however, claimed a period of 30 days to investigate cases before transmitting them to the CNR.

The Refugee Law required the CNR to issue written decisions and allowed rejected applicants to appeal within 15 days and to remain until a final decision by the State Council, which was to rule on their appeals within 60 days. Those granted asylum had the right to bring their spouses and minor children to join them. The Government did not allow independent monitoring of the process.

National authorities managed the transit centers and camps, and immigration officials from the Ministry of Local Government, Good Governance, Community Development and Social Affairs (MINALOC) registered refugees in every refugee camp and transit center. The Government recognized asylum seekers in transit centers on a prima facie basis. The CNR accorded individual refugee status to some 160 people, all of whom were Congolese, and denied status to nearly 20 Congolese and almost 30 from Burundi. It received seven new applications.

Detention/Access to Courts

In October, immigration officials arrested a Congolese national, who reportedly had refugee status in Belgium, for reentering the country illegally after Rwanda had expelled him in 2005 for political campaigns.

Most arrests were for crimes, but police sometimes detained refugees for circulating without documents attesting to their status. Once they proved their status, police released them. UNHCR, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and other nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) could monitor detention sites, and refugees had access to counsel and were able to challenge their detention.

The Constitution extended to all persons its protections against arbitrary detention and its due process rights. The Refugee Law expressly entitled refugees to recognition before the law.

Most Congolese refugees living in camps with prima facie recognition did not receive any documentation attesting to their status except ration cards. Refugees who had individual status determinations were eligible for refugee identity documents but CNR issued them A qui de droit letters instead to refugees and asylum seekers.

Generally, local authorities and the police respected these documents.

Despite agreeing to issue refugee identity cards in 2005, the Government insisted that the Rwanda Information Technology Authority issue them, causing delays.

Freedom of Movement and Residence

The Government required refugees to have travel permits or refugee identification documents to travel outside their areas of residence. Camp authorities issued passes to refugees for a specified duration, permitting them to leave the camps or provinces where the camps were located. Some refugees lived in cities but humanitarian aid was limited to those in camps.

Rwanda maintained an exception to the 1951 Convention allowing it to determine refugees' places of residence and to limit their freedom of movement "for reasons of public order." The Constitution reserved to citizens its right to freedom of movement, but the Refugee Law extended it to refugees.

The Refugee Law entitled refugees to two-year international travel documents from the immigration office on demand but they did not receive them because of a disagreement between the Government and UNHCR over the Government's insistance on including its state seal along with the UN logo on the documents. The Government also required refugees to document their need to travel and to obtain a letter of authorization allowing them to travel. Finally, all individuals wishing to leave Rwanda had to have exit visas.

Right to Earn a Livelihood

Refugees needed permits to work legally and they cost RWF200,000 (about $363). Many worked informally in building construction, or as farmers, mechanics, or domestic workers. Some nurses and teachers were able to work in their professional fields, as teaching was not restricted to nationals. Additionally, NGOs in camps recruited refugees to work.

The Constitution extended to all persons the rights to work, to form unions, to strike, and to own private property. The Refugee Law explicitly granted these rights to refugees. A 1996 decree on conditions of employment for foreigners also explicitly allowed refugees to work. Rwanda's labor and social security legislation covered refugees on par with nationals but refugees received neither social security nor disability insurance.

Refugees and asylum seekers had the right to acquire, hold title to, and transfer movable and immovable property.

Public Relief and Education

Refugees had access to national hospitals but not the national health insurance program or public assistance. Refugee camps were crowded, with poor water and limited medical staff in Kiziba and Gihembe camps. The Government and NGOs financed some livelihood projects in the camps, including tailoring, welding, and carpentry.

Refugees had access to primary education both in camps and outside. Most primary-level children enrolled in school, but secondary enrolment was about 40 percent. Giheme camp had 70 classrooms for primary school students and 16 classrooms for secondary schools. In March 2008, a Swedish project in Gihembe, Kiziba, Nyabiheke, and Kigeme camps, targeting some 3,500 girls, paid fees for primary and secondary school as well as for books and uniforms.

Rwanda mentioned refugees in the September 2007 Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) it prepared for international donors. The PRSP stated that one of Rwanda's objectives was to ensure that vulnerable children, including refugees, had access to education. The PRSP also mentioned a need to undertake risk assessments to prepare for disasters, including possible mass influxes of refugees.

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