The Newsletter received the following response to our coverage of the Rwandan Cessation Clause in the September Issue. Hyperlinks have been added by the Newsletter editors. We encourage all of our readers to contribute responses and comments on any subject covered (or in need of coverage).
The Rwandan refugee student who wrote in your September Newsletter concerning the negative impact of Rwandan refugee cessation of status on Rwandan refugee students in Zambia gave an accurate description of the present situation.
Rwandan refugee students with DAFI sponsorship continue to be sponsored, but students already studying at the University of Zambia and colleges have been excluded from the 2012 selection for sponsorship for this new academic year. There were 19 Rwandan refugee applicants, but not one of them was chosen out of the 20 considered.
Rwandan refugee students were informed by UNHCR Lusaka Regional Office that they were excluded because of the impending cessation of their refugee status at the end of June 2013. Further, they would not enjoy the concession granted by the Geneva UNHCR office for students already supported by DAFI as they could not remain in the country beyond June 2013. There has been no mention of the two other durable solutions – local integration and resettlement, rather they are expected to leave Zambia and continue their educations in Rwanda, despite the fact that many courses they study are not available there.
Especially surprising was that DAFI awards were given to two Angolan students who had lost their refugee status due to Cessation on 20th June this year. This increases Rwandan students’ perception that they are facing unfair discrimination.
Rwandan refugees and their community leaders have met many times with UNHCR staff members concerning the issue of DAFI sponsorship, church leaders have written to the UNHCR Regional Representative and German Embassy (which funds DAFI sponsorships), and there was an impassioned appeal made by the Chair of the Central Refugee Committee speaking for all refugees at the June World Refugee Day celebration attended by both the UNHCR Regional Representative and Zambian Commissioner for Refugees addressing the issue.
As your correspondent correctly stated, the decision to withdraw funding has impacted very negatively on Rwandan refugee students and three have already been forced to leave the University of Zambia because of lack of funds. Even those who don’t fear returning home may have to leave without completing their diplomas or degrees. The Rwandan refugee community sees education as their vital lifeline to a better future, and they sacrifice considerably to promote the education of their children. In the past, a larger number of DAFI sponsorships were allocated to Rwandan students because of their high level of academic achievement, and because the courses they study benefit the Zambian nation, especially in the field of health and education.
The Rwandan refugee community in Zambia feels it is especially under threat as Zambia is the first African country to begin the implementation of the cessation of refugee status clause. Almost all Rwandan refugees are averse to repatriation and losing their refugee status. Already more than 5,000 have applied for exemption, and 95% of the people interviewed have been disqualified. However, the majority of those who applied were interviewed without legal representation.
Refugees are aware that the cessation of refugee status should not be applied to those who arrived after December 1989, but this is not being observed by the Regional UNHCR office in Lusaka and Commissioner for Refugees’ office, as all Rwandan refugees are being asked to attend interviews.
It is encouraging, therefore, that the UNHCR Senior Legal Co-coordinator and Chief of the Protection Policy and Legal Advice Section, Division of International Protection, Alice Edwards, has replied to correspondence in a positive way. She stated, ‘Our general position has been and continues to be (and as communicated to our offices) that the same approach applies to all nationalities impacted by cessation, which is that education (including DAFI scholarships) is a tool to support durable solutions.’ She states that those already with DAFI sponsorship may continue, and ‘when it comes to new sponsorships, Rwandan students have not been excluded from the selection process and quite a number actually applied in Lusaka.’
The Rwandan refugee community in Zambia is happy that the Senior Legal Coordinator is making enquiries regarding this issue. She must now be aware that the UNHCR Regional office in Zambia has not been following UNHCR official policy, which does not discriminate by nationality, and ‘sees the importance of education to support durable solutions.’ They ask that the concession given to those already sponsored by DAFI be also given to new applicants and that UNHCR policy regarding students applying for DAFI selection be followed in all their offices, including Zambia. They ask that the injustice of excluding Rwandan refugee students in Zambia from selection for help with further education be remedied. Re-drafting the selection process according to UNHCR general policy would show the UNHCR to be faithful to its Charter of assisting refugees of all nationalities as much as possible.
The Rt. Revd. John Osmers, Assistant Anglican Bishop of Lusaka, Zambia