Emeritus Archbishop, Telesphore Mpundu, has cautioned President Hakainde Hichilema concerning any reckless decisions regarding the repatriation of refugees to Rwanda.
Mpundu said while there was acknowledgement on the concerns raised by Rwandan President Paul Kagame, it must be recognized that individuals accused of committing genocide were tried in the Arusha Court on Rwandan genocide, a process completed with Zambia’s cooperation.
The former Lusaka Diocese Catholic Archbishop said this in a statement issued in Lusaka on Wednesday.
He implored Hichilema to transfer remaining perpetrators of genocide, if there are any who were not tried in Arusha, to Geneva or another neutral country in Europe or the USA where they can receive a fair and impartial trial in accordance with international law.
“It deeply concerns me that the current Minister of Home Affairs and Internal Security, Jack Mwiimbu, has not taken steps in the last two years to invoke Section 49 of the Refugees Act, 2017,” Mpundu said.
He commended Hichilema for approving a national refugee policy and has supported calls for granting citizenship to refugees in line with Article 37 of the Constitution of Zambia.
Mpundu said more can and should be done under the current legal framework to address the legal status of refugees in Zambia.
“Denying refugees and their children, who have known no other home but Zambia, the opportunity to obtain citizenship renders them stateless – an inherently inhumane situation that we must rectify,” he said.
Mpundu said the failure by Mwiimbu to discharge the mandate to naturalise refugees who qualify for Zambian citizenship was reflection of a lack of political will and missed opportunity to conclusively address the refugee issue through existing legal channels.
He said granting citizenship to refugees who meet the legal requirements aligned with Zambia’s commitment to human rights and would harness their skills to contribute to the country’s socioeconomic growth.
Zambia is currently a home to an estimated total of 89,100 refugees out of which 17,305 are former refugees and their children who have been declared stateless by virtue of the cessation clause declared in 2013 and have lived in Zambia for 30 years.
Zambia hosts about 4,000 Rwandan refugees who fled in the aftermath of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi including some suspected of being perpetrators of the massacre.
Many of these are reluctant to repatriate as many other Rwandans in different African countries for economic reasons and/or for fear of possible arrest.
Kagame said there were only two options for refugees yet to repatriate–voluntarily return or seek permanent residency in the host country.
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