UNHCR Global Appeal 1999 - Regional Overview: Great Lakes

The flight of millions of refugees from the 1994 genocide in Rwanda presented UNHCR with one of the greatest protection challenges in the agency's history. Mixed in among the civilian refugees were some of the organizers and perpetrators of the genocide. Refugee camps harboured not only innocents who deserved international protection, but combatants who clearly did not. These military elements threatened the safety of refugee and aid workers, and threatened the stability and security of their host countries and their countries of origin. Ensuring the protection of refugees over the following four years became an almost impossible task.

Protection under enormous difficulties

Yet in spite of the enormous difficulties, UNHCR protected refugees, provided lifesaving assistance, and helped repatriate most of the refugees during 1996 and 1997. 1998 began with promising indications that diplomacy, reconciliation, and democracy in the region would lead to a durable peace and consequent solutions to the refugee problems in the region. As part of the positive momentum, in February 1998, UNHCR organized a visit by the High Commissioner to nine countries in the region and helped arrange a regional consultative meeting at the ministerial level in Kampala. Regional refugee and state security issues were addressed during both events.

New Rebellion

The period of stability was short-lived. A rebellion in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) challenged the authority of the President, Laurent Kabila. Rwandan military advisors were expelled from the country, and hostilities which erupted in Kinshasa in early August 1998 spread quickly to the Kivu region where local military commanders declared their intention to remove Kabila from power. The rebels advanced quickly in Kivu and in other parts of the country and mounted an assault on Kinshasa. The Government, supported by other countries, launched a counter- offensive. The outcome of the conflict remains far from certain, and large parts of the country are inaccessible.

Contingency Plans

A relatively small number of refugees have fled the Democratic Republic of the Congo to date. As of early October, some 9,000 Congolese refugees had arrived in Kigoma (United Republic of Tanzania), and nearly 6,000 had fled to Burundi. Smaller numbers arrived in Rwanda and the Republic of the Congo. But the potential for a humanitarian crisis is real, and UNHCR offices in neighbouring countries closely monitor events in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The High Commissioner has appealed for more active engagement by sister United Nations agencies and NGOs in reviewing and updating contingency plans in neighbouring countries should there be another large-scale flight of refugees in the region.

On a more positive note, the peace process in and around Burundi is showing signs of progress. While it is too early to predict the outcome, UNHCR is preparing to promote repatriation to Burundi from the United Republic of Tanzania if conditions are favourable.

Budget US$

The budget does not include costs at Headquarters.

CountryGeneral ProgrammesSpecial ProgrammesTotal
The Republic of the Congo152,6001,993,6002,146,200
The Democratic Republic of the Congo1,803,3008,074,7439,878,043
The United Republic of Tanzania2,470,20026,732,16829,202,368
Other Countries*3,788,8833,788,883
Regional Projects**9,600,0009,600,000

* Includes costs in Angola, the Central African Republic, Kenya and Uganda.

** Includes supplementary food, basic assistance items (plastic sheets, blankets, jerrycans and kitchen sets), transport (light aircraft) and United Nations Volunteers and consultants. These costs are part of the budget for the Great Lakes Operation and Rwanda.