Five-day training extends awareness on complex legal framework surrounding refugees in Rwanda 

Rwanda has established itself as a safe haven for refugees fleeing conflict and persecution from various countries, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Somalia, Eritrea, and beyond.

The government of Rwanda is committed to prioritizing the safety and well-being of these displaced individuals.

The Ministry of Emergency Management (MINEMA) reports that portion of refugees in Rwanda, with the majority (60%) originating from the Democratic Republic of Congo, have been collectively granted refugee status. This swift action is largely due to the sheer volume of refugees arriving simultaneously.

However, it is essential to note that this expedited process does not exempt asylum seekers from adhering to the laws governing refugee status. Rwanda maintains strict legal guidelines that must be followed by those responsible for overseeing the asylum process.

Despite these measures, some asylum seekers and officials may not possess a comprehensive understanding of the laws in place. 

To address this issue, the Ministry in charge of Emergency Management requested the Ministry of Justice to facilitate training of stakeholders on the refugee law and refugee status determination process in order to increase the capacity of the national asylum process through the acquisition of technical expertise in the law on refugee protection.

This training initiative brought together immigration officials, members of the Rwanda Bar Association, and MINEMA employees to ensure a well-rounded understanding of the complex legal framework surrounding refugees, and it was conducted in the Institute of Legal Practice and Development (ILPD).

Dr. ZIKAMABAHARI Jean de Dieu, a law lecturer and refugee law expert, emphasized the importance of this training, stating, "It's evident that some of the individuals responsible for assisting refugees may not be fully acquainted with all relevant laws. Throughout this training week, we have sought to enlighten them on the rights of refugees and how they should be treated.

When someone enters the country without proper documentation, it can constitute a crime. However, if that individual promptly claims refugee status, they must be treated in accordance with refugee law."

"Once the host country acknowledges the person's refuge request, they should be provided with the protections allowed by refugee law."

Given the critical importance of understanding these laws, let's delve into the components and key aspects of refugee law that everyone involved should be aware of.

Eligibility for refugee status in Rwanda

Refugee laws in Rwanda are governed by both international and domestic legislation. Andre Vuganeza, an employee at MINEMA responsible for managing refugee affairs, highlighted that the laws surrounding refugees are not widely understood. 

To prevent potential abuse of these laws, it is crucial for all stakeholders, including asylum seekers and those overseeing the process, to comprehend the legal framework.

Vuganeza outlined some of the criteria for obtaining asylum, including fleeing injustice in one's home country, particularly due to political reasons or beliefs. 

He emphasized that competent authorities thoroughly assess these claims to ensure they do not violate the law. Additionally, the assessment considers whether the asylum seeker's home country, which bears the responsibility to protect them, poses a threat to their safety.

"If it is determined that an individual is under threat, they may apply for asylum, and it will be granted. However, certain factors can prevent someone from being granted asylum, as there are guidelines in place," he explained.

He clarified that seeking asylum does not absolve individuals of criminal charges in their home country. 

"If an asylum seeker is found to be evading justice, their request for asylum becomes invalid. Seeking asylum while fleeing criminal prosecution is not grounds for refugee status. In such cases, the individual is considered a criminal who has escaped justice," he asserted.

Vuganeza also underscored that even if an individual is granted refugee status in Rwanda, engaging in illegal activities within the country will result in the revocation of their asylum status.

Furthermore, authorities scrutinize the reasons provided by asylum seekers to ensure they align with Rwandan and international laws.

Upon arriving in Rwanda, asylum seekers are required to report to immigration authorities or the nearest local authorities, who then direct them to the immigration office. 

Here, they undergo a series of inquiries and are subsequently reviewed by the Refugee Status Determination Committee, which determines whether their asylum application in Rwanda is accepted. During this assessment period, individuals are granted temporary asylum in the country.