Rwanda refugees will not be able to keep their refugee status on Dec. 31, 2017, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees declared. This was an agreement between Rwanda and refugee host countries. Refugees will either have to return to their home country or stay in their country of residence as permanent residents or official citizens. Here are 10 facts about Rwanda refugees to know before they are no longer considered refugees.
- The majority of Rwanda refugees became refugees during the 1994 genocide. Extremist Hutis killed about 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus over the span of about 100 days in April 1994. The genocide was sparked by a plane crash that killed Burundi President Cyprien Ntaymari. The majority Hutus and minority Tutsis had been in conflict since Rwanda’s founding.
- There were warning signs before the genocide. According to a March 1994 unclassified document from the Department of State, there were almost 300,000 Hutu refugees from Burundi, over 500,000 Tutsi refugees who were exiled from Rwanda and 350,000 Rwandans who were internally displaced due to the conflict between the Rwandan Patriotic Front and the government.
- The Rwandan government said that 3.4 million Rwandan refugees have returned home since 1994. More than 5,000 Rwandan refugees returned home in 2016.
- Rwandan refugees have fled to nearby countries such as Tanzania, Zambia and Uganda. Refugees have faced physical attacks in Zambia and forced deportations in Tanzania and Uganda.
- There have been many pop culture references to the Rwandan genocide. “Hotel Rwanda” is a 2004 film based on a true story about a hotel owner who housed thousands of Tutsi refugees. Kanye West controversially incorporated a Rwandan refugee camp theme into his Yeezy Season 3 show.
- Rwanda has been holding refugees from Burundi – 81,540 to be exact. The two countries accused one another of trying to destabilize each other’s governments.
- Between 100,000 and 250,000 women were raped or sexually assaulted during the genocide. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda “declared rape to be a war crime and crime against humanity” in 1994, according to the United Nations.
- The Rwandan government has tried almost two million genocide criminals through a process called Gacaca. This process involves allowing local community leaders to judge genocide criminals. They were organized to bring efficiency to Rwanda’s overcrowded court system after the genocide. It is debated whether this helps the communities stay involved, or allows non-professionals to serve justice.
- Refugees who return to Rwanda by the December deadline will receive compensation. Adults will receive a $250 resettlement package and children will receive a $150 resettlement package from the UNHCR and the Rwandan government.
- The Millennium Challenge Corporation, a U.S. foreign aid agency, has sought to help promote democracy and civic participation in Rwanda. They have done this through the Rwanda Threshold Program, which trained journalists, police officers, and other public officials from 2008-2011. The United States government has aided Rwanda in many other areas as well, such as healthcare, economics, and education.
These 10 facts about Rwanda refugees are important to remember as you consider 2017 being their last year to keep their refugee status. Rwandan refugees can reapply to get new refugee status in their host countries, but it is up to the host countries to decide whether to readmit them or not.
– Jennifer Taggart