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Rwanda: UNHCR concerned about allegations of involuntary returns

Briefing notes

Rwanda: UNHCR concerned about allegations of involuntary returns

20 September 2002

UNHCR is gravely concerned about allegations from Congolese refugees in Rwanda that local authorities and officials of the rebel group Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD/Goma) are pressuring able - bodied men to return to north Kivu from Rwanda to join rebel security forces.

"They are asking all able bodied men to repatriate and secure the area," one 20 - year - old male angrily complained to UNHCR in Byumba camp on Wednesday.

There are also worrying reports from an NGO in Kiziba camp in Kibuye Province and Gihembe in Byumba Province that local authorities have declined to authorise the re - opening of schools in another sign of pressure on the Congolese to leave Rwanda. Schools were scheduled to re - open in early September. The NGO has now been told to run schools outside the refugee camps. The re - opening of schools inside the camp would require "authorisation from higher authorities" the NGO has been told.

Meanwhile, information posters telling refugees that the return operation being managed by the government of Rwanda should be voluntary have been torn down. UNHCR had posted more than 1,000 posters in both camps. The two camps have some 32,000 refugees.

Since August 31, the government of Rwanda and the rebel group, Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD/Goma) have carried out a controversial operation which has seen the return of more than 8,500 Congolese refugees of Tutsi origin from two camps in Rwanda. Many of the returnees say they returned under duress. UNHCR is not involved in the operation and has repeatedly asked that any involuntary returns be halted.

UNHCR workers have continued to receive accounts from refugees about intimidation. In Kiziba camp, there is a continued and questionable presence of RCD - Goma officials.

In eastern DRC itself, there has been no improvement in the difficult living conditions for the returned refugees. They are being settled by RCD/Goma officials in the village of Kitchanga, some 80 km north of the DRC border town of Goma. The number of returnees from camps in Rwanda has declined. In Byumba, no departure was recorded since Wednesday (18 Sept.) while the last departures from Kibuye date back to the 10th of September.

Due to the difficult living conditions, more of the repatriated Congolese are trickling back to their original camps in Rwanda. On Wednesday, UNHCR interviewed a group of 20 refugees who had left from Kitchanga to return to the camp in Kibuye to escape the hardship in Kitchanga. These refugees stated that they had left their families behind to return individually because they could not afford transport fees for the entire family.