The Rwandan Refugee Support Group
The support group was formed early in November 1994 in response to cultural isolation experienced by the two Rwandan Tutsi families living in Hobart at the present time.
The group is a partnership between the Anglican Church and concerned members of the community at large. Most of the support base of the group is spread from Cygnet in Southern Tasmania, the D’Entrecasteaux Channel and Hobart at the present time. There are no geographical bounds on membership. One active member lives at Byron Bay in New South Wales.
The objectives of our group are:-
◦ To help build a sustainable Rwandan Tutsi community in Hobart to help overcome the cultural isolation of the small existing community.
◦ Fund raising mainly for air tickets for potential incoming sponsored individuals.
◦ Raising public awareness of the situation of genocide survivors living both in Australia and in Rwanda.
◦ Lobbying politicians to achieve a higher priority for genocide survivors within Australia’s refugee program.
The group was primarily concerned with raising funds for sponsorship of Tutsi genocide survivors both to create a sustainable community about the families already present and of course to give the opportunity of as many Tutsi refugees as possible to rebuild their lives in Australia.
Our fund raising activities have been from direct donations from concerned citizens, hamper raffling and from a benefit concert held during the Cygnet Folk Festival in February 2005.
Raising public awareness
As our relationship with the existing Rwandan families developed the immensity of the tragedy which occurred during the genocide became apparent as did the international rejection and indifference to a crisis in a small relatively economically insignificant African nation.
The Support Group has been working to promote public awareness of the genocide and the situation of Genocide survivors at the present time both in Australia and in Rwanda.
We have had excellent support from The Hobart Mercury with one particular journalist giving excellent coverage of African and particularly Rwandan refugee issues.
The Rwandan genocide commemeration march and meeting took place in Hobart during April this year along with TV and print media coverage. The presence of around one hundred and fifty people demonstrates a very significant raising of community consciousness regarding Hobart’s Rwandan refugees and their genocide experience.
The Support Group has also been lobbying politicians in an attempt to achieve a higher priority for Genocide survivors in the context of Australia’s refugee program.
The plight of refugees from the genocide being at risk of their lives due to being potential witnesses against genocide perpetrators both inside their own country and even more so as refugees particularly in neighbouring countries came to light.
There are continuous reports of genocide survivors who are potential witnesses in the Gacaca process being murdered to prevent their appearing before the courts. Prior to the Gacaca beginning, there are reports that from two to thirty genocide survivors each month were losing their lives unaccountably to prevent them from implicating guilty perpetrators.
This risk occurs wherever Hutu and Tutsi cohabitate. In refugee camps. UNHCR Safe houses and even a murder on a bus in Belgium.
A community justice similar to South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation process. Some 150,000 Hutu refugees have departed Rwanda prior to the onset of the Gacaca trials giving an indication of the number of guilty citizens on top of the 130,000 who were imprisoned for genocide crimes.
1994, still a problem?
Refugees from any country are escaping from a crisis situation and no one seeks to diminish the severity of circumstances in the countries of origin of any refugees. Although the Rwandan Genocide of 1994 took place eleven years ago, the world considers it to be a passed event, and no longer an issue compared to crises in other countries.
The reality is that the genocide has never stopped. Slowed down perhaps but there is growing sentiment amongst militant Hutus that what was begun in 1994 should be completed. Tutsi dwellers in the north of the country are regularly subjected to propaganda leaflet distribution claiming that the Tutsi’s days are numbered. That the job will be completed.
Many of the recipients of such propaganda are widows and orphans continually living in fear.
HIV/AIDS, a weapon
The level of HIV infection amongst adult Rwandans is 13%, The HIV positive infection level amongst survivor widows is 67% due to systematic rape during the genocide by infected Hutu militia. Some skiting to their victims that they now also had AIDS. The Rwandan government does not provide any priority of treatment for these widows, they are left to a long and distressing death.
Stresses for survivors
Some 75,000 of a total of 130,000 Hutus have been released from prison because they have admitted their guilt and willingness to engage in Gacaca, the Rwandan equivalent to South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation process. The effect upon survivors is to increase stress and humiliation due to living alongside perpetrators who upon release often claim their innocence and blame survivors for framing them.
The pressure cooker like effect of the 50,000 remaining prisoners who are either facing more serious charges or proclaim their innocence and await trial also increases stress and animosity towards survivors in their communities.
Alongside the real danger of being killed to prevent witnessing in future criminal proceedings against perpetrators these are some of the background reasons why the Rwandan Refugee Support Group is lobbying our Government for special provision for genocide survivors to receive priority for processing regarding entrance into Australia.
Becoming a refugee
Also that due to the increased danger of leaving home and seeking refugee status in neighbouring countries, facing the increased risk in refugee camps, that genocide survivors be able to contact the Australian Government directly without necessarily having refugee status, but that by demonstrating their bona fide status as a genocide survivor, that they be entitled to entry into Australia, their refugee status to be determined in due course.
We are also seeking to have the Australian Government treat individuals in the same light as families with respect to sponsorship. Presently, the Government sponsors refugee families into Australia, paying their airfares to Australia as well as their establishment and ongoing support. Individuals who need to be privately sponsored need to have their aifares paid by their sponsors.
Many Rwandan Tutsi survivors have no family whatsoever, no one to sponsor them unless by luck a benevolent institution or individual comes to hear of their plight. Thus we seek equity for survivor individuals.
DIMIA gives no recognition that Rwandan Tutsi genocide survivors have a stronger case than others for processing as entrants into Australia. This is despite the danger of travel or living amongst genocide perpetrators who are still trying to eliminate potential witnesses.
We can influence government policy by writing to the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs and voicing our opinion. Please do so.
The bigger picture.
The Rwandan Refugee Support Group was set up with specific aims and objectives. It becomes impossible to support a group without being able to assist them in their concerns. How to find the doctor, rental assistance or counselling are fairly straightforward. It is inevitable however that concerns of refugees who hope and dream of reconciliation in their original nations include overcoming some of the obstacles to reconciliation.
Some such issues are ones of justice, some in Rwanda anyway are political. The backlog of court cases stemming from the genocide is becoming a major stumbling block to reconciliation. There is a strong sense that the world who ignored and rejected Rwanda during the genocide can assist by contributing legal resources to speed up clearing the backlog. We keep this case before the Government.
Diplomacy maybe an effective tool in encouraging the Rwandan Government to remove from government office known genocide perpetrators. Also to address the issue of compensation for genocide survivors who have never received compensation for stolen property, damaged houses and stolen money during the genocide.
This is the only genocide where both perpetrators and victims are still living alongside each other after the event. It is a massive experiment in social engineering and needs every obstacle to reconciliation to be removed if the Tutsi survivors are not to be subject to a third rate existence as people who are perceived to be the cause of the problem, have had their means of existence removed and live without hope.
We ask our Government to use its diplomatic endeavours to address these issues.
We encourage Australian business to engage in trade with Rwanda and are looking into possibilities to that end. Rwanda was considered the second poorest nation in the world prior to the genocide. The subsequent collapse of the world coffee market alongside the process of rebuilding infrastructure places Rwanda alongside many African countries which have politically and economically imploded over the past ten to twenty years. Rwanda is extremely rich in terms of soils but it is also the most densly populated country of Africa. Any increase in standard of living will decrease competition for scarce resources within Rwanda.