The government of Uganda is considering cancelling the refugee status of thousands of Rwandans living in Uganda.
The announcement was made by the Minister for Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Refugees Hillary Onek while meeting lawmakers of the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) in Kampala.
He explained that government is considering cancelling their refugee status and instead issuing them with temporary permits.
“We are going to turn them over to the immigration department so that their long stay in Uganda will be subjected to immigration laws because immigration laws in Uganda say that you are given a visa to stay for three months. Thereafter you have to justify your further stay in a country,” Mr Onek said.
The minister said that the process of convincing Rwandans to return home has not been easy as many are not willing to do so.
Hundreds of thousands of Rwandans fled to Uganda following the 1994 genocide.
Rwanda has generally been peaceful for over 20 years and many Rwandese who had fled have since returned to their home country.
But government says there are still over 14000 Rwandans still living in Uganda as refugees.
Also part of the meeting was Ugandan line ministers, led by the Premier Ruhakana Rugunda. The Ugandan entourage expressed their concerns about the over stay of refugees.
“People who come as refugees end up as Ugandans and they have national IDs. How long will people continue to be refugees when they can be Ugandans?” a Ugandan representative to EALA said.
According to Ugandan officials, they have tried to convince Rwandans to return to their country in vain.
Minster Musa Ecweru also weighed in on the matter, claiming that Rwandan refugees in the country today have nothing to do with the genocide.
“These ones came when the RPF government took power. They are not running way from the genocide but the current system of the Kigali government,” he said.
He said that the situation in Rwanda and most African states in similar to a cup of porridge which is cool on top but very hot as you go down.
This he said could be the reason why most refugees do not return to their countries even when everyone notices stability in those respective countries.
Rwanda has recently accused Uganda of harboring political elements operating across the border and destabilizing the country.
Uganda and Rwanda had set August 31, 2009 as the deadline for the Rwandan refugees to voluntarily return home, but thousands of them have been hesitant to return for fear of persecution.
So far, only 4,000 out of 17,000 refugees have returned home under the assisted voluntary repatriation exercise supported by United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), the Government of Uganda and Rwanda.