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Statement by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the Informal Donor Meeting on Refugee Reintegration in the Great Lakes Region of Africa, Geneva, 23 November 1996

Speeches and statements

Statement by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the Informal Donor Meeting on Refugee Reintegration in the Great Lakes Region of Africa, Geneva, 23 November 1996

23 November 1996
Regional UpdateRefugee Reintegration and Reconciliation in RwandaUNHCR's Contributions

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to start by thanking the Government of Canada and in particular Minister Don Boudria and Mrs Labelle, for their excellent initiative in convening this meeting. I was extremely moved when I saw, last Friday, the refugees streaming back into Rwanda. Most of them were still in reasonably good shape. For a long time we have made every effort to achieve large scale return, and finally it was happening. Although we helped 400,000 refugees repatriate since the summer of 1994, a real breakthrough could not be obtained for reasons well known: continuous intimidation coupled with magnifying apprehension about conditions back home. With the few options they had, but finally freed from those who kept them hostage, the refugees decided to go home. Now we can help them resume a normal life. There are, however, still many refugees who have stayed behind in Zaire. Before sharing with you UNHCR's reintegration programme in Rwanda, let me therefore provide you with a brief regional update.

Regional Update

a) In Eastern Zaire, there were 1.24 million refugees, 1.1 million of whom were Rwandan and others Burundian. These figures are based on past verifications, and on the October UNHCR-WFP food assessment mission for north Kivu, in which the European Union and the US Government participated as observers. An estimated 500,000 Rwandans have returned since November 15. Aerial reconnaissance and field reports indicate groups of people in several large new concentrations, including some 100,000 south of Uvira, over 200,000 south-west of Bukavu, 100,000 north-west of Bukavu, 200,000 between Bukavu and Goma, and over 100,000 north-west of Goma. We must assume that the majority of these persons are from the refugee camps, but there are likely to be displaced Zairians among them, and significant numbers of displaced Zairians elsewhere.

You will appreciate that I am very worried about the plight of these people. At least the refugees in Mugunga, who have now returned, stayed in a camp where there was still food and clean water. Those who now remain behind have been on the move for several weeks. Their situation must be desperate, but without help we cannot reach them to simultaneously provide emergency relief and enable safe return.

b) There have been considerable influxes from eastern Zaire into Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. They concern mostly Zairian nationals but include Rwandan and Burundian refugees.

c) Return to Burundi: So far 36,000 Burundian refugees have returned from the Uvira region in Zaire. After a number of démarches, we gained access to the border for assistance and protection purposes. My main worry is now the safety of people returning to troubled areas in Burundi, especially Cibitoke province, where according to recently confirmed reports 300 returnees were massacred in a church on October 27. Following intensive discussions between the Regional Humanitarian Coordinator, my Representative and the Burundian Government, the authorities promised every possible effort to ensure security. This may include the temporary regrouping of returnees in some areas, if possible, close to their own villages. This solution may still be better than facing the dangers of conflict and hunger in eastern Zaire. However, as a matter of priority it must be combined with assured safe access for humanitarian staff and human rights observers. International presence in Burundi must be increased.

d) Refugees in Tanzania: The situation of the 535,000 Rwandan refugees in Tanzania has not yet been affected by the crisis in eastern Zaire. President Mkapa has made it clear that before UNHCR's voluntary repatriation plan of early October will be implemented, time should be allowed for the Rwandan authorities to manage the current massive returns from eastern Zaire. I am grateful for this approach, especially in the knowledge that Tanzania is facing an additional influx of 49,000 refugees from Burundi since November 1st.

Refugee Reintegration and Reconciliation in Rwanda

The conclusion from the foregoing can only be that internal and external population movements are far from over and even spreading over the entire Great Lakes region. Let me, however, now concentrate on the recent return movements to Rwanda. Bearing in mind the Plan of Action agreed to at the Bujumbura Conference organized by UNHCR and the OAU in February 1995, I believe that we should place the immediate objective of facilitating refugee reintegration in the broader context of reaching an early transition from relief to development and fostering reconciliation.

Reconciliation should indeed be the ultimate objective and will be an enormous challenge following the traumas of war, genocide and suffering in exile. Without the refugees returning, their could be no true reconciliation, as the Rwandan Government has always pointed out. Refugee return is indeed indispensable, but not enough. First, the people of Rwanda must agree to build an inclusive society, and second, for the wounds of genocide to heal there must be justice, fair justice.

If reconciliation is to have a chance, the process of refugee reintegration must be peaceful and humane. I understand therefore that security, which however respects the human rights of all, is a priority. This should also mean that if people are to be arrested, and added to the overcrowded prisons, this should rest on substantiated suspicions of serious crimes. Confidence building is a major need. I am pleased to note that so far the returnees have been well received by the authorities. I hope that messages of welcome will be repeated in the days and weeks to come.

Development, and the equitable sharing of its fruits, should facilitate progress towards reconciliation. With the help of the Round Table process, bilateral donors and multilateral agencies, development has already resumed. Refugee reintegration projects should stimulate this process further and must therefore tally with the development strategy, also to ensure the sustainability of such projects. Another important parameter for refugee reintegration should be to continue treating all returnee groups equally. At least 800,000 refugees from previous periods, who are mostly of Tutsi origin, have also come back to Rwanda since 1994. Progress towards the settlement of this group is required, if only because many of them occupy property of the 1994 refugees.

UNHCR's Contributions

Let me now turn to the contributions my Office intends to make. Building on our current activities, they reflect the consultations held this week with the Rwandan authorities and other agencies. Beyond the repatriation packages and other forms of direct assistance to returnees, the main elements of UNHCR's programmes are as follows:

First, protection monitoring. We have carried out this activity during the past two years, and are now stepping it up. The objectives are building confidence through presence, ensuring that the Rwandan safety assurances given to my Office are met, and supporting the authorities with means for problem solving. Returnee monitoring is a key role of my Office in all repatriation operations. I am requesting Governments to make 40 additional monitors available to my Office. I hope that the operation of the High Commissioner for Human Rights will soon be strengthened as well. Our activities are complementary, but different. The human rights observers have a much broader mandate in Rwanda, and as far as returnees are concerned, are especially active in monitoring cases of arrest and detention. Let me add that my Office will also continue to help train judicial personnel.

Second, we intend to expand our shelter programme. The issue of house occupation is an immediate practical problem and a potential security issue. The Government has repeatedly stressed that the right of home owners to retrieve their properties will be respected. Alternative accommodation for house occupants is therefore a necessity. To date, UNHCR has distributed 40,000 shelter packages, containing basic construction materials. Tool kits, doors and windows will be added. In cooperation with UNDP, UNHCR will increase its material and technical assistance to accelerate the Government's programme of constructing new villages for pre-1994 refugees. Thirty-one villages have been constructed so far. Not being a reconstruction agency, our aim has been to jumpstart these works, as time is now more than ever of the essence.

Third, we want to make a special effort to help the women of Rwanda. 70% of the country's population are women and girls, and 50% of all households are female headed. Many women survived the genocide, and many female refugees have come back alone. My Office has launched the "Rwandan Women's Initiative," with a budget of 7 million USD, aimed at empowering women through a cluster of legal, education and housing programmes. I am convinced that women have a key role to play in the building of a new Rwanda.

Fourth, we will continue to initiate community based quick impact projects through the rehabilitation of health and education facilities, and of water and sanitation systems. These projects are concentrated in areas hosting large numbers of returnees, and involve also construction in the new villages for pre-1994 refugees. In the area of agriculture, increased quantities of seeds, tools and fertilizers are urgently required, whereas financial support to enable farmers to breed livestock will also be provided. Cattle herders will be assisted to increase the productivity of their herds. Considerable effort will be devoted to nascent income generating projects.

Closely linked to all these activities is the continued need to provide financial and material support to all Government Ministries directly involved with reintegration issues in order to reinforce their management capacity.

UNHCR's assistance plans through December 1997 have initially been budgeted at USD 123 million. This year the budget was 40 million USD. Our programme takes into account the review of resettlement and reintegration activities undertaken by a joint UNDP-UNHCR mission early this month. UNDP is an important partner in the crucial shelter sector. As in other countries, and as reviewed by the mission, UNHCR's contribution is limited to the initial phase of reintegration in which we focus on urgent needs. I appreciate that already last year the Rwandan Government recognized UNHCR's lead role in this phase. We exercise our role in close cooperation with the Minister for Rehabilitation, other concerned Ministries, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Rwanda, and with UNDP, UNICEF, WFP, FAO, WHO, the Human Rights Operation, IOM, ICRC and many NGOs. All of these organizations have important complementary programmes in Rwanda.

Finally, let me use this occasion to once again highlight the enormous refugee burden Zaire has carried since 1994. I would welcome a serious initiative to assist the internally displaced and affected people of Zaire, and to restore the ecological and socio-economic infrastructure, as soon as conditions permit. The heavy burden and damage of Zaire and Tanzania should not be overlooked by the international community. I hope that the repatriation of so many Rwandans will mark the beginning of a brighter future and real process of reconciliation.

Let me repeat, however, that there are still hundreds of thousands of Rwandans left in the wilderness of Zaire. Nothing can be done for them, nor for the affected Zairians, unless we have access. Many lives are at risk. My pleas is to be given means to reach and help these people as quickly as possible.

Thank you.