Effectiveness of termination of refugee status under the 1951 UN Convention on refugees: a case study of Rwandan refugees in Uganda
Wakabala, Suzan Sylvia
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This study analyzes the effectiveness of the termination of refugee status under the 1951 UN Convention on Rwandan refugees who fled to Uganda between 1959 and 1998. It is with respect to these refugees that UNHCR declared the Cessation Clause—which stripped the refugees of international protection on June 30, 2015—and expired on December 31, 2017. The declaration was in the belief that refugee status is temporary and that Rwanda was safe for their return despite petitions by civil society, the refugees themselves, and some host states. The central argument of this thesis is that the return of the refugees was influenced by the attitude of the government of Uganda and the host communities, as well as by conditions in Rwanda. The study involved the collection of field data from the refugees and host communities from Kyaka II, and Oruchinga and Nakivale refugee settlements and adjacent communities in Kyegegwa and Isingiro districts respectively, and from various key stakeholders such as officials of the Office of the Prime Minister. Between 2002 and 2012, UNHCR and the governments of Uganda and Rwanda used the police to force the refugees to return, and in this respect, UNHCR appears to have acted ultra-vires its mandate of voluntary repatriation which amounted to refoulement. While the use of force caused some refugees to go back home, many of them returned to Uganda due to the unbearable conditions in Rwanda. After 2013, however, Uganda changed its stance on the issue and strictly followed the refugee law and policy which permits refugees to settle in the country and engage in production to attain self-sufficiency which, however, discouraged return. While exposing the limitations of the declaration of the Clause, the study makes the case that the involvement of host states and key stakeholders in determining that a country of origin is safe for return could lead to legitimacy for the host states to act on it. The study concludes that the UNHCR-declared Cessation Clause has not achieved the return of refugees initially anticipated by UNHCR and the Government of the Republic of Rwanda as a mere 2,434, out of 16,347 refugees (by June 30, 2013) finally returned.