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Rwanda: Voluntary repatriation campaign begins

Briefing notes

Rwanda: Voluntary repatriation campaign begins

7 November 2003

We have begun a campaign for the voluntary repatriation of some 80,000 Rwandan refugees, most of them in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). These refugees are believed to be all that remain of an estimated 2 million Rwandans who fled to neighbouring countries in the Great Lakes region of Africa in the wake of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda that left more than 800,000 people dead.

Large numbers of these refugees have returned since, at first from Burundi. In October 1996, following the Rwandan-backed uprising in the DRC, then known as Zaire, more than 600,000 Rwandans returned to Rwanda. In December that same year, 500,000 Rwandans swept back into their country from the other side, in Tanzania.

Over the past two years, as the situation continued to improve in Rwanda, we organized returns from the neighbouring countries. Last year, UNHCR helped 23,000 Rwandans return home from the DRC and another 11,000 from Tanzania. We assisted in the return of 11,900 Rwandans this year from the DRC and we plan to bring back the rest of some 21,000 Rwandans there next year.

On Tuesday, UNHCR signed a tripartite agreement with Rwanda and Malawi for the return of around 5,000 refugees from Malawi, and discussions began in Kigali for the return of several thousand more Rwandans from Namibia. Also this year, 80 Rwandans have gone home from Zambia, which is hosting several thousand Rwandans. The rest of the Rwandans are in urban centres in Southern Africa.

On Monday and Tuesday, representatives of UNHCR and the Ugandan government met with refugees at Nakivale and Oruchinga camps to discuss the first organised repatriation programme for 25,000 Rwandan refugees in Uganda. The first convoys from these two camps in Uganda's south-western district of Mbarrara are expected to bring refugees back to Rwanda in December.

Under the programme, they will be transported to the Rwandan border for onward travel to their home villages. They will also receive an assistance package consisting of plastic sheeting, kitchen sets, jerry cans, soap and a three-month supply of food from the World Food Programme.

High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers said in April during a visit to Tanzania that while the refugee agency regarded Rwanda as safe for returns, repatriation must be voluntary.

Lubbers' message was repeated during a meeting in Uganda's camps conducted by UNHCR representatives and the Ugandan minister in charge of refugees, Christine Aporu Amogin. Rwandan officials are also being invited to participate in an information campaign on conditions in Rwanda.