KIGALI, Rwanda – Ms Odette Bayagambe, 39, had always considered Tanzania her home, until the afternoon of August 9, 2013 when Tanzanian security operatives attacked her home and forced her to leave the country.
“I had just taken goats to graze,” she says. “As I stood in the middle of our banana plantation, four Tanzanian soldiers came to our home and shouted at me, ‘Rudi Kwenu’ [Kiswahili phrase meaning ‘Go back home’]”.
She was forced out of Tanzania, leaving behind 30 goats, land plots, a three hectares cassava plantation, a banana plantation, her house and all other properties.
On July 19, 2013, Tanzania’s President Jakaya Kikwete ordered all “illegal immigrants” be expelled after two weeks ultimatum.
More than 14,000 Rwandans were kicked out indefinitely. They had no opportunity to pack their properties or sell them. The victims say Tanzanian security operatives stormed villages, smashed houses, burnt some of them and looted properties. Many were assaulted. The Tanzanian government has denied such acts ever happened.
Upon arrival at the border along the east, the Rwandan government settled them in Kiyanzi transit camp, Eastern Rwanda, in makeshift shelters.
About 9,000 families were helped locate their ancestral relatives in different parts.
“We also provided them with a three months’ food package; beans, rice, maize, salt, cooking oil and boxes of compact rice for the children and the elderly,” says Seraphine Mukantabana, Rwanda’s Minister for Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs (MIDIMAR).
Over 5,000 families remained in the camp, including Ms Bayagambe’s. And the government is building new homes for them.
For example, on June 28, at a community gathering, 40 families, including Ms Bayagambe’s, had not prepared themselves for a big surprise – a fully-furnished house. Each house costs Rwf12 million (about 20,000USD). An average Rwandan lives in a house that costs much less.
Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame pledged Rwf480 million (about 700,000USD) to help build fully furnished houses, for ten families.
For those resettled, each district has a long-term support package. The returnees are allocated start-up capital of Rwf100, 000 (about 150$) to help run small business. Community members have also donated food to the families.
Father of two Mr Dismas Habimana, 47, is still angry. “I had 120 cows, and I left all of them in Tanzania”, he says, from his new home at Ruhashya sector, Huye district, a two hours’ drive south from the capital Kigali.