U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2007 - Rwanda



Refoulement/Physical Protection

Despite intervention from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), immigration officials forcibly returned, and abandoned at the border, four Burundian refugee minors. Denmark had accepted these refugees for resettlement. They eventually found their way to the UNHCR office in Burundi, which helped them reach their resettlement destination. Five other Burundian refugees (also accepted for resettlement) had to go to Uganda in order to proceed with their resettlement. Seven others had to go to Kenya, where UNHCR had been reporting such arrivals for the past three years. One Ugandan refugee left for Tanzania, fearing Rwanda could not protect him from his nearby Ugandan persecutors.

Police deported six nationals of the Democratic Republic of Congo (Congo-Kinshasa), some who were registered refugees or asylum seekers in Belgium and Burundi. The authorities said they were security threats and had problems with their identity documents but listed no specific charges.

An armed group from Congo-Kinshasa reportedly recruited between 20 and 30 children from one refugee camp as combatants or forced laborers. In 2005, the Rwanda Defense Forces reportedly participated in child soldier recruitment by such militias.

There were no reports of physical assault against refugees resulting in injury or death. However, according to a World Vision study in December, 30 out of 60 children interviewed in the Gihembe refugee camp reported sexual abuse (although the rate was even higher in other camps in the Great Lakes region) and 18 percent of the abused reported having nightmares as a result. Abused children identified teachers (23 percent), military personnel (23 percent), community members (23 percent), family members (seven percent), camp leaders (four percent), and police officers (three percent) as the perpetrators.

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. It maintained a reservation to the 1951 Convention's freedom of movement provision and to the Protocol's dispute resolution provision. The 2003 Constitution recognized a right of asylum. It also explicitly extended all rights it did not reserve for nationals to legal foreign residents and established the supremacy of duly 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 but did not explicitly prohibit refoulement. The law created 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. 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 CNR within 15 days and the applicant then had to fill out forms to apply for asylum at CNR, which was to decide their claims within six months. The law required

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. After final rejections, asylum seekers had 60 days, renewable once, to leave the country. Those granted asylum had the right to bring their spouses and minor children to join them. CNR began, and UNHCR stopped, registering new applicants in 2004 while UNHCR continued determining the status of those submitted earlier and counseled new applicants and, at CNR's invitation, attended its deliberations. In January 2006, CNR assumed responsibility for all determinations. In practice, immigration officials, part of the security apparatus serving the military and intelligence service, claimed a period of 30 days to investigate cases before transmitting them to CNR. However, CNR was not able to meet the six-month deadline for deciding claims and, since 2004, more than 400 applicants accumulated in the backlog.

During 2006, fewer than a dozen Burundians requested asylum in Rwanda; they were each recognized individually. Rwanda granted about 2,500 asylum seekers from Congo-Kinshasa prima facie status, although it also recognized a small number individually along with over a dozen Ugandans.

Voluntary repatriation to Congo-Kinshasa remained volatile, as political tensions continued, leading to fewer repatriations than UNHCR had originally estimated. In June, at a World Refugee Day event at Kigeme camp, CNR President Frank Gatete told all refugees in various camps in the country to go home.

Detention/Access to Courts

Police arrested four Burundian minors scheduled for resettlement to Denmark and sent them to an illegal youth detention center and held them for three days on unsupported suspicions that they were Rwandan nationals before deporting them.

In Kigali, police officers frequently arrested and detained refugees and asylum seekers who were not carrying their identification cards or refugee papers. UNHCR intervened in several cases to identify and free them. Authorities arrested seven Burundians after witnesses in the Gacaca process accused them of involvement in the 1994 genocide. Authorities detained two members of the Ugandan army for crossing the border illegally and failing to register with immigration. Intelligence agents approached other Ugandans, took them to their offices, and asked them to report back regularly.

The International Committee of the Red Cross and UNHCR were generally able to monitor detention. Twice, however, police station commanders denied UNHCR access to cases linked to exit visas for resettlement until their superiors intervened. The Government did not inform UNHCR of their imprisonment but the agency learned about it from the minors' caretaker in Kigali.

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.

CNR delivered attestations of status to refugees and asylum seekers in Kigali since 2004, which authorities generally recognized, but refugees in the camps who went through a verification/registration exercise in 2005 did not receive identity documents.

The Refugee Law required the immigration offices at which asylum seekers initially registered to grant them provisional residence permits until they could register with CNR. Upon granting asylum, authorities were to issue refugees, their spouses, and minor children identity cards with the right to stay in Rwanda.

UNHCR reported several cases of arrest by police requesting confirmation of status by national authorities and UNHCR. However, UNHCR training of police officers, immigration officers, and vice mayors led to fewer arrests and greater understanding by police officers in cases of identity cards.

Freedom of Movement/Residence

Around 40,000 Congolese and almost 2,000 Burundian refugees remained in camps and had to apply to camp authorities for passes to leave. Refugees in urban areas with identification papers could move freely throughout the country, although police occasionally questioned them (Ugandans especially) about their reasons for travel. Camp-based refugees had only ration cards for identity and this inhibited their movement. The World Food Programme gave food to refugees in camps but not to those in urban areas.

In signing the 1951 Convention, Rwanda reserved the right to determine refugees' places of residence and to limit their freedom of movement "for reasons of public policy (ordre public)." The Constitution also reserved to citizens its right to freedom of movement, but the Refugee Law extended it to refugees.

Refugees accepted for resettlement had to pass an interview with immigration officials before receiving exit visas. Officials blocked several cases because they suspected that the applicants were Rwandan nationals. In four cases, police arrested refugees following the interview. Five had to travel overland without permits to Uganda and seven to Kenya where UNHCR had been reporting such arrivals for the past three years.

The refugee law entitled refugees to two-year international travel documents on demand. In practice, however, the Government required refugees to show that the travel was valid and well founded and the reasons for it well documented and required a letter of authorization. The only refugee who applied for a travel document, intending to visit his family in Kenya, eventually decided to wait until his family could come to Rwanda instead.

Right to Earn a Livelihood

The Government reserved most jobs for Rwandans. Refugees needed permits to work legally, for which they also needed a government-issued identity card. Permits were too expensive for most refugees and many worked in the informal economy in construction, mechanics, farming, and domestic work. A few professionals were able to work in the refugee camps as teachers and nurses.

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 of foreigners also explicitly allowed refugees to work.

Public Relief and Education

Refugees had access to national hospitals but not the national health insurance program or public assistance. UNHCR provided primary health services to camp refugees. Urban refugees received assistance on a case-by-case basis. In February, refugees in Gihembe camp reported a lack of cooking fuel following a government directive against tree cutting.

Refugee children had access to public primary schools on par with nationals. Camp-based primary schools followed the national curriculum. The Constitution extended to all persons the rights to free primary education and to health. The refugee law granted refugees the right to housing and government aid.

The Government did not restrict humanitarian agencies' access to refugees. The 2002 Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning prepared for international donors mentioned refugees (other than Rwandan returnees) in passing as a housing burden but did not propose any development plans to include them. In its July 2005 Annual Progress Report, it said that Ministry of Local Government, Community Development and Social Affairs provided "[s]upport programmes for refugees and repatriates" and listed its establishment of the CNR as one of the principal actions undertaken in "Social Protection Policy."


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