Refugees Magazine Issue 110 (Crisis in the Great Lakes) - Great Lakes Chronology
Timetable of a disaster.
October 21, 1993:
Burundi's first democratically elected president, Melchior Ndadaye, is killed by renegade soldiers. Revenge killings sweep the countryside and 700,000 Hutus stream into Rwanda, Tanzania and Zaire to escape army reprisals.
April 6, 1994:
The presidents of Rwanda and Burundi are killed in mysterious circumstances when their aircraft crashes approaching Kigali airport. Rwandan soldiers and Interahamwe begin house-to-house searches and a genocide in which between 500,000 and one million people are slaughtered.
April 28, 1994:
Nearly a quarter million Rwandans flee across the Rusumo bridge into Ngara, Tanzania, in 24 hours. This first flight of Hutu refugees is the largest and fastest movement of refugees in modern history.
July 14, 1994:
Worse follows. More than one million Rwandans flood into the eastern Zaire town of Goma in four days. Cholera breaks out and as many as 50,000 people die within a matter of weeks in squalid camps. A huge international aid effort, costing two billion dollars in the first two weeks alone, is launched.
UNHCR organizes the first repatriation from Goma. The following day, extremists attack other refugees waiting to go home. Camp populations in Zaire and Tanzania are routinely harassed and killed by the Interahamwe, determined to maintain their own political and military control over the refugees.
The international community ignores UNHCR calls to separate former Rwandan soldiers from genuine refugees, UNHCR hires 1,500 Zaire troops to police Goma, Bukavu and Uvira camps.
15,000 Rwandans are forcibly repatriated from camps in Northern Burundi before international pressure halts the refoulement. Following a military coup in Bujumbura on July 25, the remaining 65,000 Rwandans petition UNHCR to return home, bringing the Burundi operation to a close in August.
October 13, 1996:
A rebellion in eastern Zaire begins which eventually leads to the destruction of all refugee camps and the overthrow of Mobutu Sese Seko. Runingo camp north of Uvira is the first to be attacked, a sequence repeated over and over again.
November 15, 1996:
UNHCR evacuates Goma and staff then return as refugees begin to flee Mugunga camp west of the town. In the next few days 600,000 Rwandans go home, but many former Rwandan soldiers and Interahamwe head west, deeper into Zaire. One month later, the first of 500,000 refugees in Tanzania are sent home by Tanzanian troops.
March 17, 1997:
Humanitarian agencies pursue fleeing refugees into the Zaire rainforests. The first of 62,000 refugees are airlifted home from Tingi Tingi camp. An estimated 185,000 are repatriated by land and air during this phase but many tens of thousands remain unaccounted for in Central Africa.
Source: Refugees Magazine issue 110 (1997)