Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. The government granted prima facie refugee status to Burundian refugees fleeing instability after Burundi’s 2015 presidential election. In 2015 to November 7, more than 81,600 Burundian refugees entered the country, joining approximately 74,000 Congolese refugees who had sought refuge between 1994 and 2015.
UNHCR administered Mahama camp for Burundian refugees and five camps primarily for Congolese refugees with international NGOs, providing for basic health, water, sanitation, housing, feeding, and educational needs. Authorities sometimes restricted access to the camps. In June the government issued new instructions on camp management clarifying procedures for requesting access to the camps. Following the promulgation of these instructions, UNHCR reported excellent cooperation with the government and local community. In addition to increasing integration of refugees into the national education and health-care systems, the government also cooperated with UNHCR to launch a livelihoods strategy in September focused on increasing refugees’ economic integration.
UNHCR recommended that countries invoke the “ceased circumstances” clause for Rwandans who fled the country between 1959 and 1998. During the year UNHCR extended the agreement with African states hosting Rwandan refugees that refugees are to be assisted in returning to Rwanda or obtaining legal permanent residency in host countries by December 31, 2017. The cessation clause forms part of the 1951 Refugee Convention and may be applied when fundamental and durable changes in a refugee’s country of origin, such that they no longer have a well-founded fear of persecution, remove the need for international protection. Both UNHCR and the government agreed that since the end of the civil war and the 1994 genocide, the country had been peaceful, and more than three million exiled Rwandans had returned, including 5,082 during the year.
Foreign Travel: The law allows a judge to deprive convicted persons of the right to travel abroad as a stand-alone punishment or as punishment following imprisonment. Government officials must obtain written permission from the Office of the Prime Minister or the president before traveling abroad for official or personal reasons. The government restricted the travel of serving and former security-sector officials and arrested those who traveled abroad without authorization.
Members of the unregistered FDU-Inkingi party stated that authorities denied the issuance of or confiscated the passports of party members and their relatives.
Exile: The law prohibits forced exile. Some political dissidents, journalists, social activists, and former “security” detainees who claimed harassment and intimidation by the government left the country in previous years and remained in self-imposed exile. Some diplomatic personnel out of favor with the government failed to return upon conclusion of their assignments abroad.
Emigration and Repatriation: According to UNHCR, approximately 2,000 nationals returned from other countries during the year; most resettled in their districts of origin. The government worked with UNHCR and other aid organizations to assist the returnees.
The government interned former Congolese March 23 Movement combatants in a detention facility in Ngoma, but many former combatants continued to depart the facility during the year (see section 1.c., Prison and Detention Center Conditions).
The government accepted former Rwandan combatants who returned from the DRC. The Rwandan Demobilization and Reintegration Commission, with international support, placed adult former combatants in a three-month re-education program at Mutobo Demobilization Center in Northern Province. After completion, each adult former combatant was enrolled automatically in the RDF Reserve Force and received 60,000 Rwandan francs ($74) and permission to return home. After two months each former combatant received an additional 120,000 Rwandan francs ($148). In November, 54 former combatants graduated from Mutobo, bringing the total number of reintegrated ex-combatants to approximately 200 for the year. The Musanze Child Rehabilitation Center, relocated in 2015 from Muhazi, Eastern Province, treated former child combatants in Northern Province.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Authorities generally provided adequate security and physical protection within refugee camps. The RNP worked with UNHCR to build police posts on the edge of and station police officers in refugee camps. Refugees were free to file complaints at both camp and area police stations. Sexual and gender-based violence (GBV) was a problem, although formal reports of GBV in the camps declined precipitously during the year. UNHCR attributed the sharp decrease in reported GBV cases to a combination of increased GBV training of RNP officers at refugee camps, expanded NGO-run prevention and protection programs, and a pervasive culture of silence among refugee communities, who tended to underreport incidents of GBV.
In contrast to the previous year, there were no confirmed reports of recruitment of refugees into armed groups, and the government adopted stronger measures to protect vulnerable refugee populations residing in the country. The government, however, did not conduct a public investigation into credible allegations of recruitment of Burundian refugees, including children, from Mahama refugee camp between May and September 2015, and some refugees reported facing continued harassment and intimidation from authorities for their whistleblowing role in reporting recruitment.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status. UNHCR, with government and donor support, assisted approximately 165,000 refugees and asylum seekers, mostly from Burundi and the DRC. Of these, approximately 9,000 were Congolese asylum seekers who faced protracted delays in the adjudication of their asylum claims.
Human rights organizations reported that the government accepted asylum seekers of Eritrean and Sudanese origin deported from Israel to Rwanda and that many of the deportees subsequently were transported to Uganda. During the visit in July of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, the president confirmed continuing discussions regarding cooperation between the two governments on this issue, but government officials declined to disclose the terms of any agreement.
Freedom of Movement: The law does not place restrictions on freedom of movement of asylum seekers, but refugees stated that delays in the issuance of identity cards and Convention Travel Documents (CTDs) restricted their ability to travel within and outside the country. The government committed to issuing all refugees identification cards and machine-readable CTDs upon the conclusion of a joint verification exercise with UNHCR. Verification was scheduled for October but had not commenced by year’s end.
Employment: No laws restrict refugee employment, and in September the Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs jointly launched a livelihoods strategy with UNHCR aimed at increasing the ability of refugees to work in the local economy. Officials acknowledged very few refugees were able to find local employment and offered periodic job training and livelihood programs to assist refugees in finding or creating income-generating opportunities. Refugees cited lack of government-issued identity documents as one of their main obstacles to employment.
Access to Basic Services: Refugees had access to public education through grade 10, public health care, housing within the refugee camps, law enforcement, courts and judicial procedures, and legal assistance. Refugees who arrived prior to 2013 were registered and provided with biometric identification cards similar to the national identity cards; however, there were significant delays in the issuance of identity documents to refugees who entered the country in 2013 and after. Refugees in the camps received basic health care and free treatment for more complicated cases through the national health insurance scheme. There were, however, approximately 30,000 Burundi-origin urban refugees residing in Kigali and Huye who could not access the national health insurance scheme. UNHCR and the government expanded access to secondary education beyond ninth grade and collaborated on increasing integrated learning opportunities. For example, UNHCR constructed a 112-classroom school in the village outside of Mahama camp–now the largest school in the country–that served more than 8,000 refugee students and 3,000 children from the host community in an integrated setting. Nevertheless, distance of some refugee camps from secondary schools and the cost of required school materials hindered access for some refugees.
Durable Solutions: The government did not accept refugees for resettlement. The government assisted the safe, voluntary return of refugees to their countries and sought to improve local integration of refugees in protracted stays by permitting them to accept local employment and move freely in the country, and by establishing markets to facilitate trade between refugees and local citizens. The government did not facilitate the naturalization of refugees resident in the country.
Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to individual asylum seekers who might not qualify as refugees.