De­ported from Zam­bia, for­mer Rwan­dan refugees choose to stay

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TWO FOR­MER Rwan­dan refugees, In­no­cent Habu­mugisha and Egide Rwa­sibo, who were de­ported from Zam­bia in De­cem­ber 2015 on the grounds that they were work­ing as spies for the Rwan­dan gov­ern­ment and caus­ing in­se­cu­rity in Zam­bia, won a case in the Zam­bian High Court last week, with the judge rul­ing that their de­por­ta­tion was “un­con­scionable and un­rea­son­able.

“The Min­is­ter of Home Af­fairs ex­er­cised his dis­cre­tion with­out fol­low­ing the law, which re­quired him to ask the two refugees to make writ­ten pre­sen­ta­tions to him be­fore ef­fect­ing the de­por­ta­tion,” the court ruled.

Doc­u­ments from the court pro­ceed­ings show that the de­fence had ar­gued that the de­ci­sion by the Zam­bian Min­istry of Home Af­fairs to de­port the duo put them at risk of “be­ing per­se­cuted back at home” since they had been wel­comed into Zam­bia as refugees.

But Mr Habu­mugisha, a med­i­cal doc­tor, and Mr Rwa­sibo, a third-year stu­dent at Ki­gali In­de­pen­dent Univer­sity, while happy with the de­ci­sion, have de­cided to stay in Rwanda. The case brought into fo­cus the di­vi­sions among the Rwan­dan com­mu­nity in Zam­bia over some of its mem­bers’ pur­ported roles in the 1994 Geno­cide against the Tutsi, which the two de­por­tees blame for their woes.

“There is a group of pow­er­ful and rich Rwan­dans in Zam­bia who have ex­treme views. Any­one who has dif­fer­ent thoughts is ac­cused of be­ing a dou­ble agent work­ing with the Rwan­dan gov­ern­ment. That is how they bribed some author­i­ties to get us de­ported il­le­gally,” Mr Habu­mugisha told in Ki­gali.

Trou­ble for the two men be­gan in De­cem­ber 2015, when they were ar­rested in dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tions in Lusaka, hand­cuffed and blind­folded and driven to the air­port.

“I was found at my shop and ar­rested, and my refugee card was in­stantly taken with­out giv­ing me any rea­son why. I had re­ceived a lot of threats from Rwan­dans in Zam­bia and felt un­safe. I feared be­ing at­tacked,” Mr Habu­mugisha said. “A few days ear­lier, four Rwan­dans had stormed my home and threat­ened to kill me and Rwa­sibo if we did not stop get­ting into Rwan­dan pol­i­tics, and ac­cused us of be­ing spies.”

On ar­rival in Rwanda, the two men feared that they would be charged with geno­cide-re­lated crimes by Rwan­dan author­i­ties, but no charges were brought. At the time, Rwanda’s Pros­e­cu­tion Au­thor­ity told the press that they were “free peo­ple” and faced no in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

When they learned that they were free in Ki­gali, they pur­sued a le­gal bat­tle through their rel­a­tives back in Zam­bia and were last week granted a win by the high court against their de­por­ta­tion.

“The win is an in­di­ca­tion that we were in­no­cent and we are happy that the truth has fi­nally come to light. We both de­cided to stay in Rwanda be­cause it is our coun­try and we don’t see our­selves as refugees any­more.”

Hav­ing left for Zam­bia with his par­ents and sib­lings at the age of nine in 1996, Mr Habu­mugisha se­cured a UNHCR schol­ar­ship, and later rose through the ranks to be­come the leader of the Rwan­dan com­mu­nity in Zam­bia be­tween 2010 and 2015.

Zam­bia has one of the largest Rwan­dan com­mu­ni­ties out­side of East Africa. In May, Zam­bia granted tem­po­rary res­i­dence per­mits to 1,468 for­mer Rwan­dan refugees, be­gin­ning a process aimed at in­te­grat­ing about 4,000 Rwan­dan refugees into Zam­bian com­mu­ni­ties.

Pic­ture: File

A child boards a United Na­tions air­craft tak­ing refugees back to their coun­try of ori­gin. Zam­bia has one of the largest Rwan­dan com­mu­ni­ties out­side East Africa.

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