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Refugees Magazine Issue 109 (1997 In Review) - Great Lakes

Refugees Magazine, 1 September 1997

Africa's Great Lakes was a cauldron of conflicts and coups for much of 1997. Laurent Kabila swept across the former Zaire and overthrew Mobutu Sese Seko after 32 years in power. Refugees were killed in the equatorial rainforests and their plight put an intolerable strain on the very institution of asylum in Africa. Civil war in the neighbouring Congo Republic added to the images of a region in flames.

Amidst the carnage there was some good news. UNHCR field staff, together with other UN and humanitarian agencies used aircraft and helicopters, bicycles, boats and jeeps to comb the bush, tracking down wandering refugees and shepherding them onto one of the largest repatriation airlifts in Africa's history. During the year, 185,000 Rwandan refugees returned to their homeland from the former Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo. More than 62,000 went by a fleet of humanitarian aircraft.

In Rwanda, UNHCR assisted government efforts to rebuild a country shattered by the genocidal murder of more than 500,000 people in 1994. The agency trained cadres of policemen and prosecutors as part of a programme to rebuild Rwanda's justice system. It provided more than 30,000 shelter kits consisting of sheeting, poles and nails to house returnees as well as distributing seeds and tools and installing water points in the country's communes.

'The shelter programme and rehabilitation of the justice system are probably the most critical components in the reintegration and reconciliation process,' says Augustine Mahiga, coordinator of UNHCR's Special Unit for Rwanda and Burundi in Geneva. It will remain so for many years.'

The rebuilding of Rwanda, in fact, has hardly begun. The government urgently appealed to the international community for additional aid of all kinds. A total of 1.3 million refugees have returned home since October, 1996, overwhelming existing institutions, provoking new tensions, clashes between government troops and rebels and sparking small outflows of refugees late in the year.

Overlooked at times by the world community, were events in Burundi. An estimated 161,000 refugees did return to an uncertain future in that country, but a further 260,000 remained in camps in Tanzania and Democratic Congo. When Bujumbura charged rebels were using Tanzanian territory for cross-border raids, Tanzanian authorities began a crackdown on illegal residents' in September. Thousands of so-called spontaneous settlers' were expelled to Rwanda and Burundi.

The fate of tens of thousands of Rwandans still unaccounted for after the sprawling refugee settlements in Eastern Zaire were broken up in late 1996, preoccupied UNHCR heading in to 1998. Many undoubtedly had already died of malnutrition, exhaustion and disease. Unknown numbers perished in the fighting which swept across the then Zaire. But pockets of survivors remain.

UNHCR pinpointed an estimated 45,000 people in a dozen locations in Democratic Congo and across the river in the Congo Republic. Tiny pockets of stragglers were located as far as 700 kilometres north of the Congo capital of Brazzaville. Few wanted to go back home.

'They have had nothing but negative feedback of the situation back home,' says UNHCR's Nikola Mihajlovic. They want more information from their communes to help them make up their minds whether to repatriate or not.' Added Mahiga, The humanitarian challenges in the Great Lakes remain daunting. A relentless effort will be required to address them.' That was a masterly understatement.

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Intense fighting has forced more than 64,000 Congolese to flee the country in recent months.

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Human Rights and Refugee Protection

Self-Study Module 5, Vol. I: Human Rights and Refugee Protection

The Rwandan Conflict 1994 from '1997 In Review'

Stories from Refugees Magazine Issue N° 109: 1997 In Review, related to Unit plan for ages 12-14 in History: The Rwandan Conflict 1994

Rwanda, Revisiting the Camps

It was the fastest genocide in modern history and ten years on, Rwanda is still trying to pick up the pieces. Seeing today's empty fields, it is difficult to recall the horror of the refugee camps a decade ago. Unfinished business as thousands of Rwandans continue to return home years after the conflict ended.

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The Rwandan Conflict 1994

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Related Internet Links

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UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

As a massive food distribution gets underway in six UNHCR-run camps for tens of thousands of internally displaced Congolese in North Kivu, the UN refugee agency continues to hand out desperately needed shelter and household items.

A four-truck UNHCR convoy carrying 33 tonnes of various aid items, including plastic sheeting, blankets, kitchen sets and jerry cans crossed Wednesday from Rwanda into Goma, the capital of the conflict-hit province in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The aid, from regional emergency stockpiles in Tanzania, was scheduled for immediate distribution. The supplies arrived in Goma as the World Food Programme (WFP), with assistance from UNHCR, began distributing food to some 135,000 displaced people in the six camps run by the refugee agency near Goma.

More than 250,000 people have been displaced since the fighting resumed in August in North Kivu. Estimates are that there are now more than 1.3 million displaced people in this province alone.

Posted on 6 November 2008

UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

Since 2006, renewed conflict and general insecurity in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo's North Kivu province has forced some 400,000 people to flee their homes – the country's worst displacement crisis since the formal end of the civil war in 2003. In total, there are now some 800,000 people displaced in the province, including those uprooted by previous conflicts.

Hope for the future was raised in January 2008 when the DRC government and rival armed factions signed a peace accord. But the situation remains tense in North Kivu and tens of thousands of people still need help. UNHCR has opened sites for internally displaced people (IDPs) and distributed assistance such as blankets, plastic sheets, soap, jerry cans, firewood and other items to the four camps in the region. Relief items have also been delivered to some of the makeshift sites that have sprung up.

UNHCR staff have been engaged in protection monitoring to identify human rights abuses and other problems faced by IDPs and other populations at risk across North Kivu.

UNHCR's ninemillion campaign aims to provide a healthy and safe learning environment for nine million refugee children by 2010.

Posted on 28 May 2008

UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

Displaced in North Kivu: A Life on the Run

Fighting rages on in various parts of the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), with seemingly no end in sight for hundreds of thousands of Congolese forced to flee violence and instability over the past two years. The ebb and flow of conflict has left many people constantly on the move, while many families have been separated. At least 1 million people are displaced in North Kivu, the hardest hit province. After years of conflict, more than 1,000 people still die every day - mostly of hunger and treatable diseases. In some areas, two out of three women have been raped. Abductions persist and children are forcefully recruited to fight. Outbreaks of cholera and other diseases have increased as the situation deteriorates and humanitarian agencies struggle to respond to the needs of the displaced.

When the displacement crisis worsened in North Kivu in 2007, the UN refugee agency sent emergency teams to the area and set up operations in several camps for internally displaced people (IDPs). Assistance efforts have also included registering displaced people and distributing non-food aid. UNHCR carries out protection monitoring to identify human rights abuses and other problems faced by IDPs in North and South Kivu.

Displaced in North Kivu: A Life on the Run

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Our Sister, Our Mother - 2013 UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award Laureate

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