Lusaka Archbishop, Telesphore Mpundu

The Zambian catholic Archbishop’s call to his government to allow Rwandan refugees to stay in the country as refugees has drawn mixed feelings from a cross section of society.

According to media reports, the Zambian Ministry of Home Affairs had earlier announced that it would collaborate with UN refugee agency to facilitate the repatriation of refugees since the situation in Rwanda had normalised.

Lusaka Archbishop, Telesphore Mpundu, was quoted in the Zambian media urging the government to respect the rights of all refugees.

“Treat them with respect. Just like Zambians are treated wherever in the world they have settled,” said the archbishop. “We should look at refugees as ‘Christ amongst us’ and regard them not as a threat, but a resource,” he said.

In a letter the Archbishop wrote to the Zambian government, he appealed for Rwandan refugees who do not wish to return home to be allowed to stay in Zambia as refuges, a factor that would be contrary to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees cessation clause.

The Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Disaster Preparedness and Refugee Affairs, Antoine Ruvebana, insisted that the Zambian government and UNCHR possess the authority to repatriate of refugees.

“I saw their letter, but it’s the Zambian government and UNCHR that can decide whether to provide citizenship to these refugees, but the bishop is appealing for refugees to remain as refugees, which would be contrary to the cessation clause,” he pointed out.

He mentioned that refugees should prepare to return home before the implementation of the clause in June next year.

UNHCR recently recommended the invocation of the cessation clause on June 30, 2013 next year.

The cessation clause stipulates that a person recognised as a refugee, will either voluntarily return to the country of origin or apply for residence in the host country.

However, the declaration does not prevent individuals applying for refugee status and in this case, the recipient country will have to analyse individual cases that may warrant the continuation of international protection.

The Anglican Bishop of Gahini Diocese and president of the Council of Protestant Churches of Rwanda (CPR), Alexis Bilindabagabo, said the Catholic Church should instead participate in ensuring the refugees return home.

“In my opinion, it’s a big mistake. They should have used their auspices as a church to encourage the refugees to return to their country. What they are doing is totally wrong,” he said in an interview with The New Times.

Efforts to get a comment from the Rwandan Catholic Church were futile as calls to the head of Rwanda Episcopal administration, Bishop Smaragde Mbonyintege, went unanswered.

By Eric Kabeera, The New Times

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