“We Are All Rwandans”: Repatriation, National Identity, and the Plight of Rwanda’s Transferred Children

While much has been written about children caught up in the all too numerous conflicts of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, what is not as apparent is the impact these conflicts have on “transferred” children: Those removed from the conflict areas by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), international organizations, and private individuals. The practice of removing children from conflict zones has been a byproduct of many of the most violent events in recent memory: the rescue missions during the Armenian genocide, the Refugee Children Movement, kindertransport and hidden children of the Holocaust, and the lesser-known transfer of children during the Rwandan genocide in 1994. This article addresses the underreported events surrounding the transfer of children during the Rwandan genocide as a way to interrogate the consequences of this practice. It argues that as the most vulnerable of those caught up in unimaginable violence, these children become yet another face of human suffering during the conflict and in the aftermath they become the nexus for issues of identity, repatriation, and assimilation that are mobilized in national discourses of reconciliation and national unity. Of note in the cases of transferred children is how the patterns of familial fracture, alternative family structures, conflicts over the fate of former transferred children, and governments’ transborder claims to their citizens are, on the one hand, mobilized to support transferred children and, on the other, to support and provide legitimation for political policies and the project of creating a new postconflict society.