• Text size Normal size text | Increase text size by 10% | Increase text size by 20% | Increase text size by 30%

UNHCR strongly condemns expulsion of Rwandan refugees from Gabon

Press Releases, 12 August 1997

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees today strongly condemned the expulsion of eight recognized refugees in a predawn military operation from Gabon that returned a total of at least 168 Rwandans to their country.

The refugees were kept overnight inside two military aircraft that transported them just before midnight from Franceville in Gabon to the Rwandan capital, Kigali.

After being allowed to disembark, at least 45 of the Rwandans, mostly women and children, were separated from the others. They were taken for registration as normal returnees. Seven of the eight UNHCR recognized refugees were among this group. The eighth, a Burundi, is still missing. The rest, mostly men, were handcuffed and taken to an undisclosed destination. UNHCR is collaborating with the International Committee of the Red Cross to locate them.

"We strongly condemn the Gabonese government's action in forcing these eight back," High Commissioner Sadako Ogata said. "Such conduct by Gabon, which is a signatory to international conventions on the treatment of refugees, is a flagrant violation of the most basic human rights and humanitarian principles."

The High Commissioner had issued a personal plea to the Gabonese government not to expel the 168 Rwandans before the completion of crucial screening procedures started by UNHCR last week and interviews conducted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

The 168 Rwandans were among 1,300 who entered Gabon last month after trekking for months across the equatorial forest of the former Zaire and later fleeing fierce fighting in Congo-Brazzaville. The others had already returned voluntarily to Kigali.

The eight refugees found to merit international protection included a 23-year-old woman from Rwanda's south-west prefecture of Gitarama. She had fled her homeland in July 1994 following the genocide that left more than 500,000 people dead. She returned later that year from former Zaire only to witness the murder of her parents and six other family members when gunmen attacked their house at night.

She told UNHCR protection officers that she managed to survive only by lying among the corpses of her family, pretending to be dead. The protection officers describe her as a delightful young woman, who had managed to put her traumatic past behind her and was looking forward to a new life with her 14-month-old baby.

Mrs. Ogata deplored the way in which the expulsion from Gabon was carried out. "There are several thousand Rwandans scattered in countries across central Africa. It is vital that asylum countries allow us time to separate the innocent who deserve protection. These people need our help," she said.




UNHCR country pages

Keeping Busy in Rwanda's Kiziba Camp

Rwanda's Kiziba Camp was opened in December 1996, after the start of civil war in neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The facility was constructed to help cope with the influx of tens of thousands of Congolese refugees at that time. Some of the refugees have since returned to their homes in eastern DRC, but about 16,000 remain at the remote hilltop camp located in the Western province of Rwanda. Fresh violence last year in DRC's North Kivu province did not affect the camp because new arrivals were accommodated in the reopened Kigeme Camp in Rwanda's Southern province. Most of the refugees in Kiziba have said they do not want to return, but the prospects of local integration is limited by factors such as a lack of land and limited access to employment. In the meantime, people try to lead as normal a life as possible, learning new skills and running small businesses to help them become self-sufficient. For the youth, access to sports and education is very important to ensure that they do not become sidetracked by negative influences as well as to keep up their spirits and hopes for the future.

Keeping Busy in Rwanda's Kiziba Camp

The suffering and strength of displaced Congolese women

During the ceaseless cycle of violence in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, it is the vulnerable who suffer the most, especially women and children. The issue of widespread sexual and gender-based violence is a major concern for UNHCR, but it never goes away. The refugee agency has received dozens of reports of rape and assault of women during the latest wave of fighting between government forces and rebel troops as well as militia groups in North and South Kivu provinces. It is an area where rape is used as a weapon of war.

The fear of sexual and physical violence forces thousands of women to seek refuge away from their homes or across the border in countries such as Rwanda and Uganda. Often their menfolk remain behind and women become the heads of household, looking after young children. They are the bedrock of society, yet they are often the first to suffer when instability comes to their home areas.

The following images were taken recently in Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Uganda by Frédèric Noy. They depict Congolese women who have fled their homes, leaving almost everything behind, and sought shelter in a place they hope will be better than where they came from. In many ways they have become inured to hardship, but so many of them continue to retain hope for themselves and their children. And that is an inspiration to those who help them.

The suffering and strength of displaced Congolese women

Kigeme: A home carved from the hills for Congolese refugees

The Kigeme refugee camp in Rwanda's Southern province was reopened in June 2012 after thousands of Congolese civilians started fleeing across the border when fighting erupted in late April between Democratic Republic of the Congo government forces and fighters of the rebel M23 movement. Built on terraced hills, it currently houses more than 14,000 refugees but was not significantly affected by the latest fighting in eastern Congo, which saw the M23 capture the North Kivu provincial capital, Goma, before withdrawing. While many of the adults long for lasting peace in their home region, the younger refugees are determined to resume their education. Hundreds enrolled in special classes to help them prepare for the Rwandan curriculum in local primary and secondary schools, including learning different languages. In a camp where more than 60 per cent of the population are aged under 18 years, the catch-up classes help traumatized children to move forward, learn and make friends.

Kigeme: A home carved from the hills for Congolese refugees

Rwanda: Flight from BurundiPlay video

Rwanda: Flight from Burundi

In recent weeks, the number of Burundian refugees crossing into Rwanda has increased significantly. According to the Government of Rwanda, since the beginning of April, 25,004 Burundians, mostly women and children, have fled to Rwanda. Many said they had experienced intimidation and threats of violence linked to the upcoming elections.