World Refugee Survey 2009: Rwanda
Out of 59,000 refugees and asylum seekers in the Country, most are from the Democratic republic of Congo (Congo-Kinshasa). During 2008, UNHCR conducted a wide census of the refugee camps.
2008 Events Summary
In October, Rwanda expelled two Somali asylum seekers to Uganda because they lacked proper documents. During the year, approximately 10 refugees with no refugee documentations were arrested and detained but released later upon UNHCR’s intervention. Rwanda did not return any refugees or asylum seekers to their home countries during 2008.
Authorities arrested a Liberian asylum seeker for presenting a fake passport, and arrested around 10 refugees for living in urban areas without proper documents.
There were two violent incidents involving refugees reported during the year, in one a Rwandan attacked a refugee who was stealing the Rwandan’s property with a machete, and one in which a 19-year-old refugee was found dead several days after leaving a camp to work as a herdsman on a Rwandan farm. Armed groups continued to recruit children from camps in Rwanda.
During the year, five cases (seven individuals) sought asylum in Kigali. Two cases were Sudanese and three were from Congo-Kinshasa.
Refugees in Kiziba camp reportedly faced aid shortages including soap, children’s clothing, cooking materials, and sanitary materials. Refugees received food from the World Food Programme (WFP) but no further material assistance. Camp workers estimated there were 100 pregnant teens in the camp, and a number of girls already have children. Sexual and gender-based violence was also on the rise over the last two years.
Refugee teachers in Gihembe camp challenged the pay scale that saw them earning less money than Rwandan teachers. The National Council for Refugees (CNR) informed them that they earned less because they received other benefits as refugees, and that if they were to be paid full salaries as the Rwandans were, they would be subject to national taxes and other regulations. Instead, they received “incentive” payments tax-free. UNHCR attempted to mediate the dispute.
Refugees sued a doctor working with a UNHCR implementing partner for malpractice after one of their number died, but a court found the death resulted from the refugee having turned to an herbal remedy rather than the medicine the doctor prescribed.
Law and Policy
Rwanda is 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 maintains a reservation to the Protocol’s offer of recourse to the International Court of Justice. The 2003 Constitution recognizes a right of asylum, extends all rights it does not reserve for nationals to legal foreign residents, and establishes the supremacy of ratified treaties over statutory law. The 2001 Refugee Law applies 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 does not, however, explicitly prohibit refoulement.
The 2001 Refugee Law approves the creation of 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 have 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 forwards the file to the CNR within 15 days which decides claims within six months. Immigration officials, who are part of the security apparatus serving the military and intelligence service, however, claim a period of 30 days to investigate cases before transmitting them to the CNR.
The Refugee Law requires the CNR to issue written decisions and allows rejected applicants to appeal within 15 days and to remain until a final decision by the State Council, which rules on their appeals within 60 days. Those granted asylum have the right to bring their spouses and minor children to join them. The Government does not allow independent monitoring of the process.
National authorities manage the transit centers and camps, and immigration officials from the Ministry of Local Government, Good Governance, Community Development and Social Affairs (MINALOC) registers refugees in every refugee camp and transit center. The Government recognizes asylum seekers in transit centers on a prima facie basis.
Detention/Access to Courts
Most arrests are for crimes, but police sometimes detain refugees for circulating without documents attesting to their status. Once they prove their status, police generally release them. UNHCR, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and other nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) can monitor detention sites, and refugees had access to counsel and were able to challenge their detention.
Generally, local authorities and the police respect the ration cards and the letters issued by CNR attesting of the refugees and asylums seekers’ status.
The Constitution extends to all persons its protections against arbitrary detention and its due process rights. The Refugee Law expressly entitles refugees to recognition before the law.
Most Congolese refugees living in camps with prima facie recognition do not receive any documentation attesting to their status except ration cards. Refugees who have individual status determinations are eligible for refugee identity documents but CNR issues them A qui de droit letters instead to refugees and asylum seekers. The Government planned to issue documents from January to June in 2009.
Absence of national identity cards and legal documents is a great concern of refugees. Despite agreeing to issue refugee identity cards in 2005, the Government insists that the Rwanda Information Technology Authority issue them, causing delays.
Freedom of Movement and Residence
The Government requires refugees to have travel permits or refugee identification documents to travel outside their areas of residence. Camp authorities issue passes to refugees for a specified duration, permitting them to leave the camps or provinces where the camps are located. Most urban refugees are located in the capital, Kigali. Refugees are required to carry documents and they are subject to arrest and detention if they are discovered without them.
Rwanda maintains 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 reserves to citizens its right to freedom of movement, but the Refugee Law extends it to refugees.
The Refugee Law entitles refugees to two-year international travel documents from the immigration office on demand but they do not receive them because of a disagreement between the Government and UNHCR over the Government's insistence on including its state seal along with the UN logo on the documents. The Government also requires 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 have to have exit visas.
Right to Earn a Livelihood
Many refugees work with informal jobs within the Country. Refugees need permits to work legally and they cost RWF 200,000 (about $363).
Since almost all refugees work in the informal sector so it is not possible for them to benefit from any labor legislation or social security. Furthermore, refugees are subject to confiscation of goods and even detention for informal market activity.
The Constitution extends to all persons the rights to work, to form unions, to strike, and to own private property. The Refugee Law explicitly grants these rights to refugees. A 1996 decree on conditions of employment for foreigners also explicitly allows refugees to work. Rwanda’s labor and social security legislation covers refugees on par with nationals but refugees receive neither social security nor disability insurance.
Refugees and asylum seekers have the right to acquire, hold title to, and transfer movable and immovable property.
Public Relief and Education
Refugees have access to national hospitals but not the national health insurance program or public assistance. Under the law establishing the mutual health insurance scheme, every person who resides in Rwanda is obligated to join the mutual health insurance scheme. However, refugees are not eligible for public relief and rationing, but neither the Government nor any other party restricted humanitarian agencies’ access to refugees.
The Government and NGOs finance some livelihood projects in the camps, including tailoring, welding, and carpentry.
Refugees have access to primary education both in camps and outside.
Rwanda mentions refugees in the September 2007 Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper it prepared for international donors. The PRSP states that one of Rwanda’s objectives is to ensure that vulnerable children, including refugees, have access to education. The PRSP also mentions a need to undertake risk assessments to prepare for disasters, including possible mass influxes of refugees.
Back to World Refugee Survey: 2009 >>