Photo: Shahar Shoam/IRIN
African asylum seekers demonstrating outside Israel’s parliament in Jerusalem shortly before being arrested and returned to a new “open” holding facility in the southern Negev desert.
By Edmund Kagire
Rwanda has reiterated its readiness to receive African migrants from Israel and Libya.
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Louise Mushikiwabo, affirmed that Kigali would accept the refugees and asylum seekers as long as the process of relocating them was in line with international laws.
“We have told the state of Israel that our country as part of its policy is ready to receive any African migrant that would be leaving Israel in the context of international law,” she said.
“We have also agreed that we will provide as a country the basics that we provide to our own citizens. It is the same for refugees and other foreign nationals coming to Rwanda. We have yet to get a number of those migrants to arrive here in Rwanda but we are ready, we have been ready,” Ms Mushikiwabo added.
She said Rwanda’s ‘open-door policy’ on refugees, migrants and asylum seekers remained as was even as Kigali continues to deny a controversial deal with Israel to have refugees relocated from Tel Aviv.
“That policy is not going to change, to receive anybody who is not comfortable for various reasons and all this of course within the means of our country,” she said.
“We are not pretending to be able to receive the whole world here but it is something we are considering,” she added.
Ms Mushikiwabo said the same policy is being applied for the migrants who are in Libya “under extremely horrendous conditions including being sold on markets and being mistreated”.
“On the migrants in Libya we are still waiting to reach an agreement within the context of the African Union which is corroborating with international organisations on migrations to figure out which type of migrants and their identifications, the numbers that would be coming to Rwanda but that would be in the next several weeks,” she said.
Rwanda has offered to take in at least 30,000 African immigrants stranded in Libya as well as African asylum seekers in Israel.
However, the offer came under scrutiny last month after 11 Congolese refugees in Kiziba camp in western Rwanda were shot dead by police during a food protest.
More than 17,000 refugees have been protesting against a 25 per cent cut in food rations since January by the UN World Food Programme as a result of underfunding.
Following the protests, questions have been raised on whether Rwanda is able to provide basic needs for even more migrants.
Ms Mushikiwabo, addressing these concerns, said the Congolese refugees, who have been in Rwanda for more than 22 years, have “complex demands and have resorted to using violence, even against security forces, to resolve existing challenges.”
She said in mid-2000, Rwanda offered the refugees citizenship but many declined.
“We have had cases, which are at the heart of the revolt in the refugee camp, of individuals who have actually applied for a national Rwandan identity card and want to go back and request for a refugee card and at the same time want to go home to the DRC,” she said.
“Basically you have individuals who want to be three things at the same time. They want to be Rwandan, they want to be refugees and that is not really possible. That is really the heart of the matter,” Ms Mushikiwabo said.
She claimed those who led the revolt were angling for relocation to Western countries under existing resettlement programmes but at the same time seeking Rwanda citizenship.
“The revolt has to do with the fact that actually some of them are young and they became extremely violent, attacking the law enforcement agents, trying to hold hostages and our law enforcement agency was not prepared for that kind of violence,” she said.
The government says reduction of food rations affected all of the 173,000 refugees hosted in different camps in Rwanda and not one particular group.
Ms Mushikiwabo said the Kinyarwanda-speaking Congolese refugees’ issue was that of an identity crisis and difficulty to choose what they want.
She, however, said the government would facilitate anyone wanting to be repatriated but would not allow anyone to go home with a Rwandan national ID and at the same time wanting to be resettled in the United States or Europe.
On the influx of over 2,500 Burundi refugees last week, the government said it is yet to figure out how to deal with the group because of their “strange religious beliefs”.
The refugees said they left DR Congo for fear of repatriation. They claimed they fled Burundi due to religious persecution.
Ms Mushikiwabo said the refugees, who belong to a Catholic sect, have refused biometric registration and vaccination or modern medicine, a situation that Rwanda’s policies and laws won’t allow.
“It is something we are trying to figure out, how to deal with this group,” she said.