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Tanzania: "repatriation week" for Rwandans

Briefing notes

Tanzania: "repatriation week" for Rwandans

26 November 2002

UNHCR staff in Tanzania have this week stepped up efforts to promote the return of 19,000 Rwandans remaining in refugee camps in western Tanzania, in a bid to boost the sluggish pace of the repatriation movement. On Monday, 479 refugees returned to Rwanda from camps near Ngara, and today we have 491 Rwandans registered to return home. A convoy of buses and trucks loaded with the refugees and their belongings crossed Rusumo Bridge over the Kagera River that separates Tanzania and Rwanda. The refugees, accompanied by Tanzania's Minister of Home Affairs, were welcomed on the other side by the Rwandan authorities. Daily convoys are expected to carry refugees home all week, dubbed "repatriation week" by UNHCR. The repatriation operation should then return to its normal pace of two convoys per week through the end of the year.

So far this month, more than 2,000 Rwandans have decided to go home with the assistance of UNHCR. This follows a gradual increase since April, when only 124 refugees went back, to more than 1,000 returnees in October. One reason behind this surge is that in the last several weeks, UNHCR staff in the two countries organised two "go and see" visits to Rwanda that have given refugees a chance to visit Kibungo and Butare prefectures and then report back to the camps.

The majority of the recent returnees say they feel encouraged to go back by the installation of the gacaca tribunals, local traditional courts that are working to resolve judicial matters dating back to the 1994 genocide. Refugees also say they had word back from relatives who reported that their property remains available or that disputes that helped spur their departure have been settled. Refugees going home under UNHCR's wing receive a repatriation package, including a plastic tarpaulin, blankets, soap and used clothing upon their arrival at Rwanda's Nyakarambi transit centre, along with WFP food aid. They are then transported back to their areas of origin. So far this year, some 7,100 Rwandans have voluntarily returned from Tanzania.