Karongi, Rwanda – When Jeanne Uwiragiye and her family were trying to return to Rwanda, in July 2009, they had little hope of finding a better life than the one they had lived in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo. “Joy can’t express our gratitude but we simply say - Thank You!” said Uwiragiye after being offered a home in Bwishyura Sector, Karongi district with other nine families during a ceremony presided by the Minister of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs (MIDIMAR), Ms Serafine Mukantabana, and the Representative in Rwanda of the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), Mr Ahmed Baba Fall.
“After the long journey we have traveled – from the forests of Congo back to our homeland, we got help from the UNHCR, , we got a warm welcome from the Government, and now we are offered houses! We can’t believe this!” she added with joyful tears.
Like most of the three millions Rwandans who have returned home after years of living in asylum in other countries following the 1994 Genocide, Uwiragiye experienced years of sorrow and hardship before finding her path back to Rwanda. A widow at an early age with four children to raise, she was struggling to manage as a refugee in the Congo.
"Different armed groups in DRC would come to your house, accusing you of being a Rwandan spy and of living in the DRC illegally. On the streets, they would stop you. They would ask you for an overpriced and unreasonable bribe or arrest you right there,” she said.
After getting in touch with UNHCR in DRC, Uwiragiye sought information about returning back to Rwanda. UNHCR explained to her that she would be assisted with transportation back to Rwanda, food and other support during the journey, and following reception in the border transit center, a return package. The package includes food support from the World Food Porgramme to last 3 months, and also a mobile phone through which UNHCR transfers a cash grant to help returnees reestablish themselves in their home district. Uwiragiye decided that she felt sure to arrive in Rwanda safe and sound, and opted to register with UNHCR to be repatriated.
“I was nine when we fled Rwanda with my parents. I couldn’t even remember what the country looks like. But when I reached Rwanda, I immediately felt peace and restoration inside,” she said.
ONE UN Support to Rwanda returnees
Through the One UN Sustainable Return and Reintegration joint program led by UNHCR, UN agencies are supporting the Government of Rwanda to provide returnees with assistance to return to their places of origin and reintegrate into the local community.
“ONE UN Rwanda works with the Government counterpart MIDIMAR to assist returnees to settle in their districts of origin. Each UN agency plays its role to assist this program, food and essential non-food items as well as cash upon arrival, access to land for their durable self-reliance, access to education and vocational training,” said Ahmed Baba Fall, UNHCR representative.
More than 3.4 million Rwandans refugees have been assisted to return home since the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi.
“UNHCR is providing an annual health insurance and a one-time cash assistance upon return to Rwanda. Returnees receive $250 USD per adult and $150 USD per child to ensure that their reintegration is dignified and sustainable,” said Baba Fall.
“We are Thankful, Hon. Seraphine Mukantabana of MIDIMAR”
During the handover ceremony of 9 houses constructed for Rwandan returnees, Hon. Minister of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs, Seraphine Mukantabana acknowledged the ONE UN family for the support to the whole project “sustainable return and reintegration of Rwandan Returnees” – be technical and financial management support.
“Not only in shelter sector, this project extends to health whereby we provide health insurance, in education we rehabilitate schools and vocation training centers and we provide seeds, fertilizers and small livestock. All these are UN Family efforts, we are thankful,” she said.
Written by Eugene Sibomana
Communications and Public Information Associate