Zambian President Edgar Lungu and Rwanda President Paul Kagame.
By Edmund Kagire
Zambia will not be a permanent home for Rwandan refugees, President Edgar Lungu declared on Thursday.
President Lungu said that in line with the expiry of the deadline of the cessation clause that ended Rwandan refugee status in December, they have to return home.
“We will not allow a situation where we have permanent refugees in Zambia, whether they are fugitives or those who fled as victims. The bottom line is, we have to put a closure to this chapter,” President Lungu told journalists in Kigali on Thursday.
The Zambian leader completed his two-day state visit in Rwanda where alongside his host President Paul Kagame addressed the media.
Zambia hosts about 4,000 Rwandan refugees who fled in the aftermath of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi including some suspected of being perpetrators of the massacre.
Many of these are reluctant to repatriate as do many other Rwandans in different African countries for economic reasons and/or for fear of possible arrest.
President Kagame said there were only two options for refugees yet to repatriate – voluntarily return or seek permanent residency in the host country.
“We can’t just keep producing refugees or having refugees as an end in itself,” he said, adding that refugees have to realising that the reasons that made them flee had been addressed.
“Either way it is dependent on choice. You don’t force somebody to become your citizen or force them to go back where they ran from without understanding that certain conditions have been fulfilled or problems have been resolved,” he said.
“It is in this spirit that Rwanda has been discussing the problem with different countries,” he added.
Some African countries have vowed not to invoke the cessation clause while others say they would not expel the refugees immediately.
The UNHCR estimates that there are approximately 20,000 Rwandan refugees in different African countries affected by the cessation clause, but who are reluctant to repatriate.
President Lungu said his country would continue co-operating with Rwanda, pointing out that Lusaka has in past handed over at least eight genocide fugitives to be tried by the International Criminal Tribunal of Rwanda (ICTR).
“We have an understanding between Rwanda and Zambia to help each other in identifying these people [fugitives] and bring them to book,” Mr Lungu said.
The two countries have an extradition treaty.
President Lungu also pledged to support Mr Kagame’s efforts to drive reforms at the African Union. President Kagame is the current chairman of the continental bloc and is also leading reforms to turn the donor dependent AU into a self-financing body.