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UN allays Rwandese refugees fears

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The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has ruled out forced repatriation of Rwandese refugees in Zimbabwe on December 31 this year when the Cessation Clause comes into effect.

The Cessation Clause, under the UNHCR system stipulates that no Rwandese living abroad will qualify for refugee status after December 31 2011.

The clause also does not allow claims for refugee status after verification by the agency that there are no conditions in the country of origin that qualify for UN protection.

The ruling comes as a relief for an estimated 782 Rwandese refugees settled in Zimbabwe who were reluctant to return home despite persuasions by President Paul Kagame’s government.

Zimbabwe has said the refugees had until December to decide on returning home voluntarily or be forced out — a warning that could bring a similar situation like when Uganda repatriated Rwandans at gunpoint.

The UNHCR resident representative in Zimbabwe, Marcellin Hepie said he was confident Zimbabwe will not forcibly repatriate the refugees.

Hepie said they planned to dispatch a team to Rwanda comprising representatives of the refugees, government officials and staff from his office on a “go-and-see, come-and-report” mission soon.

This follows a recent visit by a Rwandese minister to Zimbabwe to encourage the refugees to return home.

Labour and Social Services minister Paurina Gwanyanya-Mpariwa told the refugees at Tongogara Refugee Camp it was now safe to return to their country.

“You would agree with me that there is no place like home and refugee life cannot continue forever,” she said. But the Rwandese have vowed to stay put, arguing it was not yet safe to do so. We are being trapped,” said one refugee. “We have heard of people that returned, but were thrown into prison on trumped up charges.”

The refusal has stoked fears Zimbabwe may use force to repatriate them.

“We have a pending trip to Rwanda,” said Ganyanya-Mpariwa. “We will verify the situation.”

Two years ago, Uganda attracted international condemnation after it was accused of “kidnapping” Rwandese refugees and repatriating them by force.

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