Today we'd like to talk about the situation in Rwanda and Tanzania. A highly touristic country, little is known about the current forced repatriation of rwandophones and other refugees there. Jeremie was asked to have a look at the situation there, and here is what he's found.

A bit of background: Tanzania and refugees

The first three periods prior to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda were characterized by an open-door policy towards refugees. Once initiated by Tanzania’s first president Nyerere in line with his general pan-African ideology. Tanzania became known as a refugee friendly country hosting several hundreds of thousands of refugees.

Cooking_foodThis open-door policy experienced a radical change in face of the massive refugee influx caused by the 1994 genocide. The country once known for its hospitality became increasingly xenophobic resulting in the forced return of 475,000 Rwandan refugees out of a total of 540,000 in December 1996. The remaining Rwandans either re-entered refugee camps claiming to be Burundians or dispersed and integrated into the local community. After this massive expulsion operation Rwandan refugees were not allowed to enter the country until 1998.

The Government of Tanzania (GoT) adopted a policy of temporary refugee protection with the goal to repatriate them as soon as possible. However, this change of the political mindset did not only result in massive expulsions. Refugees’ movement was restricted and if a refugee was caught outside the camps’ 4-mile-radius the police would arrest him or her. The mid-90s also marked the beginning of rising tensions as GoT started to send refugees back to their country of origin upon arrival.

This trend has not stopped and continues to be a decisive factor in the GoT’s approach towards foreigners as a result of its new foreign policy.



Expulsion to Rwanda

Tanzania's decision to expel, what they qualify as illegal immigrants, from their country, between 60,000 and 75,000 people are expected to be sent over to Rwanda in the coming weeks and months. Already 10,000 people have been forced to leave the province of Karagwe in western Tanzania and take up residence in the eastern Rwandan districts of Kirehe and Kyanza.  There are four categories of people which are being deported:  those who migrated during the 1920s, refugees from 1959, from 1994 and new arrivals from 2005-2006.  Ticket_for_foodThe people are primarily women, children and the elderly - with 1/3 of them not even speaking Kinyarwanda, the primary language of Rwanda. The expulsions have been characterized by beatings, sexual violence, massive expropriation of property and other violations of human rights. Families are separated; returnees are assembled during 2 or 3 days, prior to the transportation in closed trucks (up to 7 hours), all without food or water, thus leaving the victims dehydrated upon arrival.  A transit camp has been put together by government of Rwanda officials, with the assistance of the Rwandan Red Cross, where food, shelter, health services and basic items are provided. 

Though the majority of people have some family in Rwanda and a place to go back to, twenty per cent do not have any roots or family in Rwanda anymore. They have to resume their lives from scratch. They are being sent to the few plots of land available in the country. They currently lack everything: proper shelter, food, health facilities, schools, plot of land to cultivate. Some assistance is coming but it shall take some time before they resume a normal life.