Unable To Meet Immigration Requirements, Rwanda Refugees in Zambia Face Forced Repatriation

Lionel Nishimwe August 04, 2015
Rwandan refugees in Zambia have continued living in fear of being betrayed and sent back to Rwanda where they believe they will face imprisonment or death.

Rwanda Refugees

Rwandan refugees in Zambia have continued living in fear of being betrayed and sent back to Rwanda where they believe they will face imprisonment or death.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame has been denying the existence of Tutsi and Hutu ethnic groups in Rwanda since 1994. What is surprising from Paul Kagame is that he dictates to Hutus — even to those who were not yet born in 1994 — that they have to publicly ask their compatriot Tutsis for forgiveness for the sins (if any) committed by some of their fellow Hutus back during the national tragedy.

Over the years, this policy has been pushed from top to bottom of the Rwandan administrative structures, with the Gacaca judiciary system confining more than 1,500,000 Hutus and their entire families to a second-class category of citizens.

This government campaign moves at an aggressive pace, because many high-ranking government “Hutu officials” (with DE JURE powers of cosmetic nature only) are motivated by greed and ready to preserve their selfish interests without any consideration of their attitude on present and future generations of Rwandans, both Tutsis and Hutus.

It is critical to remember that for the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) to come to power, it played the ethnic card of the Tutsis as the perpetual victims of the Hutus, while it systematically oppressed, imprisoned, killed, deprived, and discriminated against the Hutu in the past two decades. This is why Rwandan refugees currently living in Zambia, wish to remain there and not repatriate to their homeland. However, a number of immigration laws is putting Rwandan refugees at risk, forcing many to repatriate against their will.


In Rwanda, there are a number of “Go and see come and tell” programmes, which began in 2004 and were reinstated as recently as December 2014 and March 2015. These programs are believed to spy on Rwandan refugees.

In addition, in 2004 and in 2015, respectively, refugee leaders Louis Ukulikiyeyesu and Egide Rwasibo returned with negative reports about Rwanda.

Due to this common knowledge, former Rwandan refugees have a “well-founded fear of persecution,” explaining why they welcome the solution of local integration in to Zambia rather than repatriation to Rwanda.

Rwanda Refugees

However, Rwandan refugee resettlement in Zambia was blocked by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in June 2013, causing a host of obstacles for refugees attempting to live in Zambia permanently.

Conditions & Economic Hurdles

For many refugees, the cessation of their refugee status, which occurred without their agreement, is believed to have happened under the pressure of the Rwandan Tutsi-led government.

The cessation was recommended by the UNHCR and effected by those states which agreed to do so.

Rwandan refugees widely believe that the RPF Tutsi-dominated government wants Hutu exiles to return to Rwanda for security purposes so that they can be under their control; consequently, the Rwandan government is promoting refugees’ repatriation and the acceptance of Rwandan government passports.

Rwanda refugees

The Zambian government’s offer of local integration since Rwanda’s 1994 genocide shows that it is committed to listening to Rwandan refugees and acknowledges refugees’ fear of persecution; however, since the cessation of their refugee status, Rwandan refugees’ resettlement in Zambia is currently tied to two potentially damaging requirements: the possession of a Rwandan government passport and a cash prohibitive mandatory minimum of funds.

Possessing the passport confirms that the recipient renounces refugee status and becomes a “normal migrant” in Zambia like a newly arrived Polish or Chinese migrant. It also confirms that the Rwandan migrant no longer fears persecution but recognizes Rwanda as a safe country to return to at any time.

That passport, which costs USD$100, will then need to be renewed three times in the 10-year waiting period for a Zambian residence permit.

Second, a Rwandan refugee will require a specific amount of money in order to qualify for the Zambian immigration permit.

A self-employed Rwandan migrant will need to show that they have USD$25,000 in capital. Yet, a Rwandan migrant may not receive an employment permit if the employment offered can be done by a Zambian national, making it difficult to raise the funds. Similarly, Rwandan students also must pay the high cost of an “economic” fee that is paid by any foreign student.

Failure to fulfill these immigration requirements will force the Rwandan migrant to be returned to Rwanda, and no one will show concern because the Rwandan migrant already has their passport for return.

For the aforementioned reasons, Rwandan local integration in Zambia is uncertain and unpredictable.

If the Government of Zambia removes the reservations of freedom of movement and freedom of employment made when signing the 1951 Geneva Convention, Rwandan refugees will be able to live a fairly normal life as in other countries in the region.

RELATED: A Success Story of a Rwandan Lawyer Living in the Diaspora







Last Edited by:Abena Agyeman-Fisher Updated: August 4, 2015


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