COMMITTEE ON PROTECTION OF MIGRANT WORKERS AND THEIR FAMILIES CONSIDERS REPORT OF RWANDA
11 September 2012
The Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families today completed its consideration of the initial report of Rwanda on its implementation of the provisions of the International Convention on the Protection of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families.
Presenting the report, Soline Nyirahabimana, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Rwanda in Geneva, said that Rwanda was committed to co-operating with human rights mechanisms for the full enjoyment of human rights across the world and highlighted the efforts that Rwanda had made in order to implement the Convention on Migrant Workers since ratifying it in 2008. She gave a report of the measures that Rwanda had taken at national, and at international level, to protect and promote the rights of migrant workers, mentioning in particular the education and health sectors. She said that there were 16,997 regular and irregular migrant workers in Rwanda, the majority of who were from East Africa, and stressed that Rwanda was actively promoting the equal treatment of foreign migrant workers in employment and remuneration. Regarding human trafficking, Rwanda was using the media to raise awareness and mobilize the public against that transnational crime.
Committee Experts congratulated Rwanda on the work that it had carried out to implement the Convention and asked questions about the cost of visas for migrant workers, their access to basic services and consular assistance, figures concerning children who were migrant workers in an irregular situation, and Rwandans living outside the country who wished to return to Rwanda or transfer funds to their country of origin. They also wanted to know what was being done to deal with illegal immigration, human trafficking and persons found to be in breach of immigration laws. Committee Members noted the lack of precise statistical data in the Rwandan report and expressed concern about the power of immigration officers controlling cross-border movement and especially entry into the country.
In concluding remarks, Myriam Poussi, Committee Member acting as Country Rapporteur for the report of Rwanda, thanked the Delegation for actively engaging in dialogue with the Committee and congratulated Rwanda on its efforts to promote and protect migrant worker rights. However, she also noted that the lack of statistics had made it difficult to gain an objective understanding of the situation of migrant workers in Rwanda.
Soline Nyirahabimana, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Rwanda in Geneva, said that the Committee’s comments would have a positive impact on the implementation of the Convention. Statistical data would be included in the next periodic review report and close co-operation with non-governmental organizations and other stakeholders in Rwanda would continue.
Adbelhamid El Jamri, Chairperson of the Committee, commended Rwanda on its willingness to implement the Convention, although its cross-cutting nature made its implementation a difficult task, and stressed that a better awareness of the Convention on points such as the detention of migrant workers would be beneficial.
The Delegation of Rwanda included representatives from the Directorate General of Immigration and Emigration, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Co-operation, and the Permanent Mission of Rwanda to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The next public meeting of the Committee will take place at 3 p.m. when it will begin consideration of the periodic review report of Bosnia and Herzegovina (CMW/C/BIH/2).
Report of Rwanda
The initial report of Rwanda can be read via the following link: (CMW/C/RWA/1)
Presentation of the Report of Rwanda
SOLINE NYIRAHABIMANA, Permanent Representative of Rwanda to the United Nations Office at Geneva, noted that all stakeholders had been involved in the preparation of the report. Rwanda had ratified almost all the core international human rights instruments and was committed to cooperating with human rights mechanisms for the full enjoyment of human rights across the world. Furthermore, Rwanda had invited all United Nations mandate holders, including Special Rapporteurs and Independent Experts, to visit the country. Highlighting some of the recent achievements of Rwanda in ensuring the promotion and protection of the rights of migrant workers and those of their families, Ms. Nyirahabimana said that at the national level, Rwanda had legally binding instruments in place to protect the rights of migrant workers. At the international level, Rwanda was party to the Protocol on the Common Market for the East African Community and had ratified the relevant International Labour Organization conventions.
In the education sector, Rwanda had successfully implemented the nine-year basic education for everyone without discrimination and was now working on the attainment of a twelve-year basic education for everyone, including the children of migrant workers. In addition, health community insurance was now opening up to migrant workers. Turning to the issues which had been raised by Committee members, the number of regular and irregular migrant workers in Rwanda was estimated at 16,997, the majority of whom were from East Africa. Rwanda was working on waiving entry visas and work and resident permit fees for East African Community citizens and on ensuring the equal treatment of foreign migrant workers in employment and remuneration.
Regarding human trafficking, Rwanda was using the media in order to mobilize the public against that transnational crime. In addition, the recently published Rwanda Penal Code had made the offence a crime. Ms. Nyirahabimana concluded her address by stressing the efforts that Rwanda had made in order to implement the Convention on Migrant Workers since ratifying it four years ago, but also said that the road ahead was long. She reiterated the commitment of Rwanda to the promotion and protection of human rights for all persons living in the country, including migrant workers and their families. The Rwandan delegation was ready to provide further information on its report and was keen to benefit from the expertise of the Committee members.
Questions by Committee Experts
MYRIAM POUSSI, Committee Member acting as Country Rapporteur for the report of Rwanda, congratulated Rwanda on the work that it had carried out to implement the Convention and acknowledged the efforts made by Rwanda to incorporate the rights of migrant workers into its national obligations. Nevertheless, she noted that the written submissions which had been made by the Rwandan delegation were lacking in numerical data and statistical information. In particular, there were no figures concerning the access of migrant workers to basic services. The structure mentioned in paragraph 18 of the report was not very clear and she wanted to know what the hierarchical position of the structure mentioned was. It was not clear from the report what the exact cost of the visa for migrant workers was. Were migrant workers informed that the effective remedy mentioned in paragraph 49 of the report existed? Had there been any complaints in that regard and, if so, what had been the result of those complaints?
How many children were migrant workers in an irregular situation and gave her opinion that children in particular should have been mentioned in the report as a separate category. Further information on the study of the situation of the Rwandan diaspora would have been useful. Did Rwanda have data and information on its population outside its borders? The Committee would like to have further details on the various consultation processes that had begun.
Was the problem of migrant worker children widespread? If so, what measures needed to be taken to combat that problem? Were Rwandan citizens who returned to Rwanda required to have proof of nationality? How did Rwanda deal with persons who did not have proof of nationality? Ms. Poussi said that immigration officers seemed to have too much power bestowed upon them and wanted to know whether there were any mechanisms in place to deal with abuse of power by immigration officers. Also, what guarantees were there to counter the vast powers invested in immigration officers?
AHMADOU TALL, Committee Member acting as Co-Rapporteur for the report of Rwanda, welcomed the delegation of Rwanda and commended Rwanda’s efforts to implement the provisions of the Convention through the adoption of appropriate measures. He also expressed satisfaction that, except for residency permits, migrant workers and foreign workers had the same rights and obligations as Rwandan workers. He concurred with Ms. Poussi on the concerns she had expressed earlier and noted in particular that, in addition to the information on the legal framework provided in the report, detailed statistics on immigration and more quantitative and qualitative data would have helped the Committee to assess the situation of migrant workers in Rwanda.
Mr. Tall noted that the lack of funds in developing countries was a hindrance to the full implementation of the Convention and said that more information on the difficulties encountered by Rwanda in the implementation of the Convention would have been useful. He requested more information on the conditions in which migrant workers were held if they were found to be in breach of the migration law and asked what was being done to explain to those persons their rights. How did Rwanda inform its nationals of their rights and obligations under the employment law? What measures had been taken to deal with specific categories of migrant workers, such as frontier workers? What had been done to eliminate the clandestine or illegal movement of migrant workers and their families and where could migrant workers go for special protection?
A Committee Expert agreed that the Rwandan report lacked statistical information. Regarding registered migrant workers between 2009 and 2010, she asked for clarification on the phrasing of that section of the report. She also requested more information on whether there was a specific Department or Directorate General responsible for providing relevant data.
Another Committee Expert congratulated Rwanda on actively engaging in a dialogue with the Committee. She noted that in the report there was no indication of the exact number of Rwandan citizens living outside Rwanda. She also asked whether there was a system for coordinating migration policy in Rwanda.
An Expert asked whether social security agreements were in place, for example for foreign workers who might leave Rwanda and return to their country of citizenship. Did Rwanda provide legal assistance to Rwandans living abroad? Did Rwanda have a re-admission agreement with other countries, especially with the European Union?
An Expert welcomed the ratification of the Convention by Rwanda and said that it demonstrated Rwanda’s concern about the rights of migrant workers, which was important, given Rwanda’s recent history. He endorsed the questions which had been asked by other Experts earlier and noted the lack of statistical data in the report. Did Rwanda have any plans for improving their data-gathering process?
How were Rwandan institutions carrying out their mandate in areas such as law enforcement and social security to ensure implementation of the Convention? To what degree had Rwanda made efforts to disseminate the content of the Convention? Did it have a policy in place to channel the remittances that Rwandan migrant workers abroad sent back to Rwanda?
To what extent had Rwanda come across cases of corruption in State institutions dealing with migration and what had been done to deal with those? More information on Rwanda’s bilateral relationship with its neighbouring countries would have been useful.
Response from the Delegation
A delegate agreed that the country’s report was short on statistical data and committed Rwanda to providing more detailed data and statistical information in the next periodic report.
Rwanda was generally regarded as one of the countries with the least amount of corruption in the region. In the past five years Rwanda had managed to pull one million Rwandans out of poverty, which also demonstrated a low level of corruption in the country.
In response to the question on migrant workers from neighbouring countries, a delegate explained that a protocol on the free movement of migrant workers from the five neighbouring countries concerned was in place and that no visa was required of those workers. Relations with neighbouring countries were excellent, which also facilitated the movement of migrant workers from Rwanda into those countries.
Regarding migration to Rwanda, a member of the delegation reported that the first migration policy was adopted in 2008 and that they had been the first in the region to ratify the Convention on Migrant Workers, which had helped Rwanda to deal with the issue of migration. Rwanda had specific programmes in place, the purpose of which was to attract highly skilled workers that were lacking in the country, for example neurosurgeons, by providing specific incentives. There was also a specific programme devoted to attracting and facilitating the registration of businesses in the country.
Concerning the term “affordable visas” mentioned in the report, which was deemed by the Committee Experts to be vague, it was explained that a visa and work permit now cost 80 per cent less than before and were issued by the General Directorate for Immigration in a simplified, one-stop process. Social media and several languages were used to communicate with prospective migrant workers and persons intending to travel to the country. A brochure explaining the procedure that needed to be followed would become available in hotels and other entry points.
Rwandans who had moved abroad were all welcome to return to Rwanda. Upon arrival, the immigration officer in charge would conduct an interview with the person wishing to enter the country. This was seen as an effective way of combating fraudulent attempts by non-Rwandan African citizens to enter Rwanda under a false identity. The procedure in place and the existing hierarchy ensured that the decision on who would be allowed to enter the country and who would be turned away did not rest with the immigration officer alone. A directorate dealing with statistics had been put in place to deal with the lack of statistical information which had been noted by the experts. Missing statistical data would be provided in the next report.
Regarding the study of Rwandan diaspora, the delegation reported that this was expected to begin soon. In the meantime, Rwandans living outside the country contributed significantly to the development of the country in their own way. Specific measures had been taken to facilitate the transfer of funds, for example a fund used by Rwandans abroad to transfer money back to Rwanda. Also, Rwandans abroad were able to transfer funds to Rwanda by using mobile phones. In addition, there were private initiatives facilitating the process. More information on those would be provided in the next report.
Regarding the ratification of the conventions of the International Labour Organization, this was being studied. A task force had been put together and had already had three meetings to discuss the matter. Specific proposals would be made to the Government in that respect. Rwanda was actively trying to reach as many stakeholders as possible to inform them about their rights resulting from the clauses of the Convention which Rwanda had ratified in 2008.
The lack of detailed statistical information should not be perceived as a lack of respect for the work of the Committee. In the absence of statistical data required by the Committee Experts, the Delegation would use case-studies to respond to some of the questions. Statistical information was available but the data relating to migrant workers and their families needed to be separated from the general statistics, which would be done in time for the next report as promised earlier. The delegation was currently considering effective ways of extracting the statistics relating to migrant workers from the general statistics available.
Returning to the issue of the possible abuse of power by immigration officers, a delegate assured the Committee that they did not have the final say when it came to decisions about allowing persons to enter Rwanda and that the system in place, whereby officers had to report regularly to their superiors, was effective in that respect.
Regarding persons who claimed to be Rwandans and requested permission to enter the country, if their nationality could not be ascertained then they would be interviewed and asked why they wished to be Rwandan nationals and live in Rwanda before a decision could be reached. This would take into account the principle that persons with no proof of nationality could not remain stateless forever.
Regarding Rwandans living abroad, a delegate said that they had the right to return to Rwanda and participate fully in the democratic processes in the country, including standing for office and being elected. In addition to that, there were internal national dialogue initiatives, the aim of which was to raise awareness about the right of Rwandan diaspora to participate in the country’s democratic processes and to encourage citizens to discuss political matters. A separate similar programme was devoted to young citizens in particular. With regard to consular assistance offered to Rwandans abroad, Rwandan embassies were responsible for creating a bridge between Rwanda and its citizens living abroad by providing useful information and by looking after persons in need of consular assistance.
Concerning the rights of seasonal and frontier workers, the Delegation said that those two concepts had been incorporated into the newly-adapted immigration law and that frontier workers were important to Rwanda, which was a landlocked country. The rights of migrant workers were defined in the law and there were specific low-fee visas for frontier workers, including non-Rwandans working in Rwanda and Rwandans working in neighbouring countries. Various regional protocols were also in place to regulate free movement of services and goods between Rwanda and neighbouring countries. Persons living in border communities had the right to move freely between countries for work, social activities, health care and sport. To facilitate that free movement, frontier citizens were equipped with identification cards and also border passes, available to them free of charge. Electronic gates were being used on a trial basis between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo to facilitate the free movement of citizens between the two countries.
Responding to the question on the transfer of funds from Rwandan citizens living outside the country, the Delegation said that in addition to the formal channels available to persons there were also informal ways of transferring money back to Rwanda. Overall, Rwandans had no problems transferring funds to Rwanda.
On illegal immigration, a system was in place to keep track of cross-border movement and to provide information on persons entering and leaving the country. That system was beneficial to combating human trafficking and smuggling, of which specific examples were given from recent months. The exact figures of the different categories of migrants, for example students, workers, etc., and other personal information such as age and nationality would become available soon.
Rwanda was very concerned about the welfare of children and had strict rules about children crossing the border unaccompanied. The aim was to prevent child trafficking and smuggling. Several awareness-raising initiatives served to inform and warn citizens about the danger of human trafficking, for which social media were also used. In addition, rigorous border checks contributed to combating human trafficking and in the past persons had been denied entry to Rwanda, for example in cases where they did not have appropriate travel documentation or were found to be in possession of illegal substances such as cannabis. In cases where persons were deported, this was handled by the appropriate immigration services.
It was reported that the number of dependents joining family members who were migrant workers in Rwanda was increasing year on year, with 2,508 dependents of migrant workers to have joined their family in Rwanda in 2012.
In terms of social security, there were two regional agreements to which Rwanda was party. Those agreements promoted social security payments from the state in which they were working, or had worked, back to their country of origin. For example, these concerned Rwandans who had lived and worked in neighbouring countries before returning to Rwanda and were owed social security payments from the countries where they had been employed. Regarding the question about readmission agreements with partner States, Rwanda had not signed any such agreements.
Concerning court cases involving migrant workers, the Delegation reiterated that the lack of statistical data did not mean that no such cases existed. No distinction was made between foreign and Rwandan detainees, all of whom received the same treatment in Rwanda. Conditions in detention centres in Rwanda conformed to international detainee standards and four prisons which were found not to meet the minimum requirements for the detention of persons had been closed. The Supreme Court had recently handed down an instruction to the judges of regional courts reminding them to apply the Convention on Migrant Workers at the domestic level.
The Delegation stressed that Rwanda was an attractive and popular business destination for non-Rwandan nationals and that the country was generally seen as offering pleasant living and working conditions. It concluded by inviting Experts to visit Rwanda and examine the situation of migrant workers.
Follow-up questions from Experts
An Expert asked what arrangements Rwanda was going to make to ensure that Rwandans living abroad participated in democratic processes in the country.
Was the National Human Rights Commission was fully independent and what measures had been taken to safeguard its independence. How were resources allocated to the National Human Rights Commission? What happened to family members of migrant workers in case the latter died?
An Expert noted the strict nature of penalties for a number of immigration offences and requested further information on the deportation procedures was followed. She also wanted to know whether the presence of Rwandan citizens in countries which had not ratified the Convention posed problems to Rwanda.
Another Expert asked whether there was a coordination policy for international migration. The Expert noted that all the questions he had asked had been answered by the Rwandan Delegation. He requested more information about the relationship between Rwanda and non-governmental organizations and about the way that non-governmental organizations worked in the country.
Another Expert asked whether Rwanda was predominantly a labour-receiving, rather than a labour-sending, country and also wanted to know whether Rwanda gave permits to private agencies sending Rwandans to other countries and what the most popular destinations were for Rwandans.
In case of the death of a migrant worker, who was responsible for the return of the body of the dead person to their country of origin? What was the degree of protection that Rwanda provided to its nationals living and working abroad?
Another Expert asked where immigrants were detained while the immigration law was being applied until it was proved that they had committed an offence. What was being done to protect the rights of foreign nationals working in Rwanda in terms of transferring money to their families back in their home countries?
Response by the Delegation
The Head of Delegation reiterated that Rwandans living outside the country were eligible to return to the country and run for office or vote.
Regarding academia, all children in Rwanda had access to free education, regardless of their country of origin. She also clarified that employment was not a requirement for persons to be entitled to health insurance benefits.
The National Human Rights Commission, which had been in place since 1999, was approved by the Senate and functioned in conformity with the Ministry of Justice.
Since 1994, one of the main objectives of civil society in Rwanda was to help rebuild the country after the genocide. Non-governmental organizations had made a significant contribution in that respect and they had a good relationship with the Government.
Pluralism and representation of all sectors were major concerns when it came to appointing the representatives and members of the National Human Rights Committee. Specific mechanisms were in place to protect the financial and other freedoms of the National Human Rights Commission.
Non-governmental organizations had also played an important role in the rebuilding of the country and in raising awareness about important issues in Rwanda, but the Delegation regretted that there was no specific statistical data available concerning non-governmental organizations.
Regarding the death of a migrant worker in Rwanda, it was reported that their family members were allowed to remain in the country and that they were given 90 days to consider their circumstances and decide what they wanted to do. It was clarified that there was no detention for migrant workers in Rwanda suspected of immigration offences. About the deportation of persons from Rwanda, the Delegation highlighted that there were specific legal provisions governing deportation cases and that equity was ensured throughout the procedure that followed.
Responding to the point about the severity of certain immigration law penalties, the Delegation said that laws had to be respected, but also pointed out that there were amendments to the laws to ensure that that all aspects of a case were taken into account. The co-ordinator of the National Migration Policy was the General Directorate for Immigration and Emigration, which also worked closely with the Ministry of Health in cases where there were disease outbreaks.
The Immigration Department was responsible for issuing visas and other travel documents. The Delegation reported that delays in registration for visas and permits had decreased significantly. It was also noted that 95 per cent of irregular immigrants had been regularized administratively and nobody had been detained on the grounds of being an irregular immigrant.
Helping Rwandans find jobs abroad had been a major concern of Rwanda for the past five years and efforts had been made in promoting working abroad to Rwandans. Awareness-raising initiatives for young people and training sessions in leadership and entrepreneurial skills were part of a new policy which was important to Rwanda. The vast majority of Rwandan diaspora lived in Rwanda’s neighbouring countries, although Rwandan citizens were known to live all over the world. It was reported that more than four million Rwandans were believed to be living in Uganda.
The Head of Delegation clarified that points which had not been addressed in great detail had been noted and comments from the Experts had been taken seriously into account. The Delegation was going to work on gathering statistical data and would reduce the amount of estimated data used wherever possible to allow for greater precision of figures in future reports. Particular attention would be paid to Rwandans working outside the country. A census would be carried out and every effort would be made to ensure that there were properly cared for.
MYRIAM POUSSI, Committee Member acting as Country Rapporteur for the report of Rwanda, congratulated Rwanda on the efforts it had made to promote and protect migrant worker rights. The adoption of a migration policy and other measures taken by the Government demonstrated Rwanda’s commitment to protecting the rights of migrant workers. The lack of statistics had been a weak aspect of the report and made it difficult to gain a good and objective understanding of the situation of migrant workers in Rwanda. Information reported about beginning the process of ratifying important instruments such as International Labour Organization Conventions was positive. The Delegation had noted the comments made by Experts, which demonstrated Rwanda’s willingness to improve the situation of migrant workers. The dialogue with the Delegation had been fruitful and useful.
SOLINE NYIRAHABIMANA, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Rwanda in Geneva, expressed her gratitude for the interactive dialogue which had taken place and said that comments from Experts had been useful and would have a positive impact on the implementation of the Convention. Work on gathering statistical data would begin immediately and statistics would be included in the next periodic review report. Close co-operation with non-governmental organizations and other stakeholders in Rwanda would continue.
ABDELHAMID EL JAMRI, Chairperson of the Committee, thanked the Delegation for their report and participation, commended Rwanda on its willingness to implement the Convention, and stressed that a better awareness of the Convention on points such as the detention of migrant workers would be beneficial. He acknowledged that the cross-cutting nature of the Convention, which affected a number of different categories of persons, made its implementation a difficult task.
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