The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has thousands of pending applications for asylum by Rwandans running away from their country, data from the agency shows, despite vigorous government efforts to end refugee-hood and the ruling RPF’s long declared wish to end causes of refugees.
As of the end of 2020, the UNHCR had pending applications of 16,657 Rwandans in its systems who want UN protection to stay in other countries, rather than return to their homeland.
Asylum-seekers with pending cases are individuals who have sought international protection and whose claims for refugee status have not yet been determined. The number above refers to claimants whose individual applications were pending at the end of 2020, irrespective of when those requests may have been lodged.
From the total pending asylum seekers, 2,364 applications were received by the UNHCR in the year 2020 alone. (See details in the table below)
In addition to the above total of asylum seekers, the UN agency has another 23,776 Rwandans in its database whom it describes as “of concern to UNHCR”.
These are said to be individuals who do not necessarily fall directly into categories of refugees or asylum seekers, but whom the UN says it “has extended its protection and/or assistance services, based on humanitarian or other special grounds”.
The number of people registered with the UN as Rwandan refugees in different countries stood at 245,800 at the end of 2020.
What is the difference between an asylum seeker and a refugee? An asylum seeker is defined as someone who is seeking international protection but whose claim for refugee status has not yet been determined by the UN system. In contrast, a refugee is someone who has been recognised under the 1951 Convention relating to the status of refugees to be a refugee.
Six months after taking up UN Security Council seat in 2013, the government of Rwandan managed to woo the UN into accepting to remove refugee status on Rwandans because, in the government and UN words, “they had no reason to be out of their country”. The process had stalled for years.
Through intense international lobbying, the process resulted in the activation of the cessation clause on Rwandan refugees. Amid fierce opposition mainly from Southern Africa nations that have tens of thousands of Rwandan refugees, the deadline for activation was moved forward several times, until finally on December 31, 2017. The UN refugee agency declared a cessation clause on Rwandans who left the country from 1959 to 1998.
Article 1C of the Geneva Convention stipulates that when the conditions that had caused refugees to leave their country of origin cease to exist, such as a civil war and armed conflict, their refugee status will be withdrawn. This is what is called the “cessation clause”. It is also provided for under the 1951 Refugee Convention.
The Rwandan refugees were given three options: (1) voluntary repatriation, (2) invocation of refugee status and local integration in the host country, and (3) individual application for refugee status with convincing reasons.
By the end of 2017 when the cessation clause came into force, the UN had records of 244,786 Rwandan refugees and asylum seekers – with more than 80% being in DR Congo.
However, the current UN figures show the agency has 287,175 Rwandans on its books. (Seen details in table below)
It means that in a period of three years (2018-2020), some 42,389 Rwandans have been added to the UN database, including those that are either refugees, seeking international protection, or are under UN custody.
Since asylum applications are a highly confidential process, the UNHCR doesn’t publish any further details apart from figures, which we are basing on here.
(EDITOR: The UNHCR database is vast and we will continue reviewing it for more relevant stories for our readers and decision-makers)