UNHCR says not forcing Rwandan or any refugees to countries of origin

UNHCR Zambia continues to pursue durable solutions for refugees in light of the protracted nature of the refugee situation in Zambia and the imminent cessation of refugee status for Angolans and Liberians – 30 June 2012,  for Rwandans – latest by 30 June 2013 and in the future for Burundians. UNHCR can never be involved in forced return but does facilitate voluntary repatriation of refugees, said UNHCR Representative inZambia, Ms. Joyce Mends-Cole.

Large-scale organized repatriation of Angolan refugees since 2003 allowed the return of approximately 77,400 – including the 2,400 who returned in the latter half of 2011.  Others have gone entirely on their own or through spontaneous assisted repatriation – approximately another 3,700. From 2007 – 2010, more than 43,000 Congolese refugees returned to DRC, of whom 9,246 returned in 2010. More than 3 million Rwandans have returned home, including from Zambia.

With regard to Rwandans, following extensive consultations with countries hosting Rwandan refugees, the country of origin and an in-depth analysis of the changes that have taken place in Rwanda since large numbers of refugees were forced to flee their country as a result of different episodes of inter-ethnic violence between 1959 and 1994, the genocide of 1994 and its aftermath, and the renewed armed conflict that erupted in north-western Rwanda from 1997 to 1998, UNHCR considers that the refugee status of Rwandan refugees who fled between 1959 and 31 December 1998 can be brought to an end, in accordance with the ‘ceased circumstances cessation clause’ in the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1969 OAU Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa.


The application of the ‘ceased circumstances cessation clause’ is an end point of a comprehensive strategy, which includes promotion of voluntary repatriation, local integration of individuals who qualify under the respective asylum countries’ national laws, and a process leading to exemption from cessation of refugees who are found to have a continued need for international protection or compelling reasons arising out of previous persecution for not being able to return to Rwanda.


UNHCR is recommending countries of asylum, including Zambia, to invoke the ‘ceased circumstances cessation clause’ in respect of Rwandan refugees who fled their country of origin between 1959 and 31 December 1998, latest by 30 June 2013.


Refugees who fled after 1998 retain their refugee status. Countries hosting Rwandan refugees are at different stages in their implementation of the aforementioned elements of the comprehensive strategy. The 30 June 2013 latest deadline has thus been agreed upon to give all countries of asylum sufficient time to, for example, implement exemption procedures in which individual applications from Rwandan refugees, who feel it is not safe for them to return, are examined.  This means that individual Rwandans may have their status ceased at different points, between now and 30 June 2013, depending on where they are in the voluntary repatriation, local integration or exemption process.

In Zambia, Rwandan refugees who feel that it is not safe for them to return to Rwandawere invited last year to submit individual applications for exemption from cessation. The majority of Rwandans registered as refugees in Zambiaapplied for exemption, and most of these applications are still in the process of being reviewed and determined. UNHCR has observer status in the exemption procedure and continues to provide guidance and advice to the decision makers in that procedure, on the application of the criteria for exemption in the context of the Rwandan situation.  UNHCR also continues to advocate for local integration for those refugees whose best durable solution may be to remain inZambia. Acceptance for local integration is solely within the purview of the Zambian Government.

As of31 December 2011, there were 4,659 Rwandan refugees registered in the Mayukwayukwa and Meheba refugee settlements and in urban areas.  :


Signed by

Ms. Joyce Mends-Cole

UNHCR Representative in Zambia, 

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