Rwanda-Uganda: Rwandan refugees denied the right to cultivate

Pherebonia Nyiramatabaro, “We are treated like animals”

All Pherebonia Nyiramatabaro, 85, wants is land where she and her 15-year-old grandson can grow a few crops. Nyiramatabaro, living in a two-roomed hut in Juru A camp in the Nakivale Refugee Settlement, southwestern Uganda, is one of thousands of Rwandans hit by a Uganda government directive barring refugees from cultivation. Under a pact between the Rwandan and Ugandan governments, Rwandan refugees were given until August 2009, with a month’s grace, to voluntarily repatriate. Only a few thousand left, however, and many returned to the camps, claiming they had not “been well received at home”. Officials of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Uganda say the Ugandan government has agreed to re-visit the decision barring Rwandan refugees from land cultivation. However, the directive is still in force.

Nyiramatabaro is one of those who refused to leave for Rwanda. “At my age and after all my children have died, what or who am I going back to Rwanda for? I fled my home in Butare [province] in 2002 when I could no longer stand the hostility; I walked all the way to Tanzania from where we later walked to Uganda; I have no intention of ever going back to Rwanda. “All I have is my grandchild. My eldest child, whom I found when I reached Tanzania, died here in this camp where he had set up as a barber. All my other children died in Rwanda during the fighting in 1994; so when they tell me I have to go back, I wonder why.

Ever since [September 2009] they directed that we can no longer cultivate the little parcels of land we had been allocated. I have suffered so much; in fact, we, the refugees from Rwanda, are treated like animals, not human beings. “I know so many people who left for Rwanda last year but have since returned after finding that they were not secure in their homes, so I ask myself, who will I depend on if I return home? My grandchild is now in the first year of secondary school here; what will happen to him?

“I wish the government of Uganda would think about the suffering of people like me when deciding that Rwandans can no longer cultivate, all I want is a chance to go back to digging the land so that my grandson and I can have enough to eat. Right now I depend on handouts, the camp commandant was kind enough to direct a group of young people to harvest what I had planted last year. So now I have some maize but what happens when it runs out? “It does not help that many Rwandan refugees are no longer receiving food rations because many of them have been in the country for more than two years [the cut-off for full food rations from the UN World Food Programme]. I am too old to go the homes of Ugandan nationals in search of casual work; yet I cannot go back home. What future is there for me?”

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