Since October 10, 2018, immigration authorities in Rwanda working with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) have been issuing refugees with machine readable refugee passports.
The refugee status travel documents will enable holders to travel abroad for business, education and other activities, thus positively influencing their lives, says Jeanne d’Arc Happiness, Rwanda’s minister for refugee affairs. UNHCR has a 20,000 pieces in stock.
Applicants complete an application form, and submit it with the certificate of residence issued by the area manager or the president of the refugee camp, as well as a copy of their identity card or a refugee certificate, a passport photo and a receipt for the payment of 10,000 Francs Rwanda ($12). Children under 16 must also present themselves with their parents who should have valid refugee status.
By November 2018, more than 1,000 passports had already been issued – with Burundians accounting for more than 80 per cent of new applicants.
Ines Irakoze, a 25-year-old Burundian, said: “I am a businesswoman. In my business, I buy from Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and even Dubai. When my passport expired, this new travel document was my second chance.”
Ines, like her compatriots, says that before the document was issued, her life as a refugee was almost closed. Crossing the borders out of Rwanda was an unachievable.
Still others report missing work opportunities because they did not have a travel document. Franck Kaze, a Burundian refugee journalist in Kigali, says he has had job opportunities in more than three West African countries that he missed because he had problem of not having a valid travel document. “My Burundian passport had already expired and as a result I had to decline the contract when he was better off,” he says.
A problem shared with many other civil society activists and media professionals, engineers, teachers and other Burundian intellectuals who are refugees in Kigali.
However, refugees believe that the price for acquiring this document is exorbitant, as long as they do not have paid work and have appealed to UNHCR to pay the full cost of producing it so that the passport is free. The document gives access in all the countries of the world except that of origin of the refugee. However, Kenya and Tanzania do not readily accept holders of this document and a $50 entry visa fee is charged for users. Rwanda hosts more than 172,000 refugees, more than 53 per cent of whom are Burundian.