THE SPEECH BY THE HONORABLE MINISTER OF HOME AFFAIRS, HON. MINISTER, EDGAR LUNGU, MP ON THE OCCASION TO MARK THE 19 YEARS THAT RWANDESE REFUGEES HAVE LIVED IN EXILE
on June 30th, 2013 at the Lusaka Cathedral of the Holy Cross
"My task this afternoon is very simple is on the position of Zambian government on this whole process we enter into starting from the night immediately after 24 hours. I’ve just come in; in fact, the last 24 hours from Geneva where I went to meet members of international community: the donors who are interested in the welfare of refugees in Zambia in view of the cessation that we are embarking on from tomorrow. First let me assure you that UNHCR is not closing shops and living Zambia. That office will remain with a permanent representative attached to Zambia in position. For the next three years also we will ensure that the whole process does not leave anyone stateless. Until the situation is conducive for people to return or not that I’ll leave to the expert to determine, and yourselves to determine. But in the process, we have engaged the Rwandese government to ensure that they do their part under critical eye of the international community. In Pretoria, in April, I did meet the delegation from Rwanda and I told them plainly some of the anxieties that you people have expressed to me why you feel you don’t want to go back to Rwanda. They also made their case. And for that reason I don’t want to be drowning into the wrangles as to whether Rwanda is conducive to return or not; because people in Rwanda are saying you are welcome home. And those who went have come with stories which the man of God has explained. But allow me to leave that to the experts : For the Zambian government, we have challenged the Rwandese government to show its sincerity in this exercise by doing their part and we have drawn lessons from the Angolan experience. Like the able student has explained here, certain things were done for Angolans and we believe those things which were done by the Zambian government and the UN through the UNHCR will be extendedly duplicated for the Rwandese people. This however is important to note that the situation in Angola is different from the situation in Rwanda and that’s where the difference is laying. That’s where you have to treat our victim, the Rwandese situation as we found it. When we came into power, we found an existing agreement between the Zambian government as you heard, UNHCR on one part and the Rwandese government. It was not our intention to go back to the drawing board and start the whole processes by cancelling every international agreement or every deal done by the Zambian Government and the International Community because people were going to doubt our sincerity. Let me repeat that it is not every deal or transaction which was entered into by our predecessor MMD Government which we could have revoked and remain “seen” in the eyes of people as noble and well meaning governance. This is one such agreement which we deeply thought about as a government and we felt we will go along with it but will give it a human face, a dignity that requires integrity of every human being. We do not know the motive why the MMD government had to enter into such arrangement, we really don’t know the motive but we have head speculations and we don’t want to go into that arena because it’s not for us to say why the MMD government and the Rwandese government and the UNHCR went into that arrangement we don’t know and we don’t want to know but we have heard certain versions of why it happened. Our task, however, is to collect the situation by giving dignity and humanity to all the victim of this decision. Within our laws we want to keep stability and dignity and humanity so that all these people who were going to be victims probably become beneficiaries of the process. In this regard we have engaged the UNHCR, we have engaged the Rwandese government and we have engaged the international community every represented by your Excellencies here to find out what we can do in this situation we found ourselves. Without having to bold you, we have laws and instructions and unfortunate situation we have here is that the stateless person cannot be amenable to consideration for certain permits and in fact all the permits that we have under our laws. Spouse Permit can only be given to a person who is married to a Zambian. And even to qualify, even where a somebody is married to a Zambian you find that the immigration department finds it sometimes difficult, they find reasons not to grant that permit to that person. So we are looking at these things in light of constitution amendment process and so on to see how we can make the law easily applicable to people who merit documentation by the law. At the moment people with the Investor Permit, people with Work Permit, Study Permit and so on are deriving these from their status as refugee. Now that tomorrow there will be no refugee in "Rwandese context", the question is what next? I think that is the question all of you want to know, what next? I came back only yesterday, I was with the good Doctor, Zambian Commission for Refugees we have engaged all these people and we have come to the conclusion that the Rwandese Government must do its part while as of Saturday I heard that the Interior Minister from Rwanda and his counterparts are coming to Zambia to engage us and I believe that they are already in the country. And in that regard we want to engage them honestly and objectively so that the fear that you have once they give the Rwandese documents they will pull it back at one point or cancel it and leave you stateless in which case you have nowhere to run to. So the Ugandan government has taken position, the Zambian government also has to take position. In the next three years we have to engage the Rwandan Community in Zambia, the Church in Zambia and the International Community to find the lasting solution to the problem. If we don’t find solution this problem will still be with us for generations to come. It’s up to us as government to find a solution which will be lasting and durable and that it is where we start from starting from tomorrow but if they give you that document of Rwandan identity from Rwanda you will become eligible of all sorts of permits: Spouse Permit, Investor Permit, Student Permit, and Residence Permit including Zambian citizenship. Let me make myself clear, it’s up to you, you have lived in Zambia long enough, and when they give you document of Rwandese identification the task will be upon you to chose whether you want to be a resident, whether you want to be a Zambian National by citizenship. The Citizenship board will sit and evaluate your eligibility and they will give it to you. A good number of you here whom I happen to know have lived here for a long time some of you speak my language very well better than me some time. At the end of the day, what is critical is what will you chose for yourself? We won’t force you if you don’t want to go to Rwanda, still we won’t force you to stay in Zambia. If you chose to go to Rwanda we will revoke or reject or give you a Zambian identification that you are going back home. So as much as we know that for now if you people want to go we cannot force you to remain in Zambia when time comes home is home we will freely say bye bye to them. To stay in Zambia is a matter of choice, the issue is: obey our laws, and this is what will make it easy to stay with us. Apart from that the rest has already been said and the most important thing is that we are not going to force repatriation. And that must be very very clear we have talked about this more often in my office and you know my position and you know the position of government. I tell people out there that humanity is one, I am from the trip I was telling people that refugee problem is a shared burden for humanity as a whole. As we engage in this process we ask friends of refugees, the Zambian Community and so forth to come on board and help us. I also did in fact indeed ask the UNHCR and others to help the Rwandese government in case what is haunting them, there are resources and they said they are ready to help. So for me there is no fear for us, no fear. There is nothing attached, good governance allows people to stay in Diaspora. There are a lot of Zambians out there who are working very well and who are staying comfortably why can’t Zambia welcome doctors, nurses teachers and all those who want to help develop this country: whether they are from Rwanda, whether they are from Chine; as long as they respect us we will respect them. So the next things we need we have to take advantage of the new birth which is now, tomorrow we will be one day on and we will learn as we go on. Eventually, we will find that there is no need for people to be homeless. I wish to thank you."