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Congolese returnees drift back to Rwandan camp

Congolese returnees drift back to Rwandan camp

Facing food and water shortages in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, Congolese refugees who had returned home under duress head back to their camp in Rwanda for supplies.
27 September 2002
Recent Congolese returnees to Kitchanga live in poor conditions in and around an abandoned factory.

KITCHANGA, Democratic Republic of the Congo, September 27 (UNHCR) - Recent Congolese returnees, part of a controversial repatriation operation from Rwanda, have begun drifting back to their Rwandan camp to escape the poor living conditions at home.

Since the start of a repatriation movement organised by the Rwandan government and the rebel group Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD-Goma) on August 31, more than 8,500 Congolese refugees in Rwandan camps have returned under duress to Kitchanga in north Kivu, eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The involuntary returns have stopped since September 18 amid protests by the UN refugee agency. In recent days, the returnees at Kitchanga have started trickling back to Rwanda, some of them for short spells.

Earlier this week, more than 100 Congolese returnees went back to Gihembe camp in northern Rwanda, apparently for a planned food distribution to the more than 10,000 Congolese refugees still in the camp. The group then returned to Kitchanga in north Kivu, which is controlled by RCD-Goma.

Describing their journey, members of the group said they paid 500 Rwandese francs (approx. $1) to the drivers of the same buses that had taken them to north Kivu. The buses took them from Kitchanga to the DRC border town of Goma, some 80 km away. From Goma they made their own way through the Rwandan border town of Gisenyi and on to Byumba province, where Gihembe camp is located.

They reported that living conditions in Kitchanga remained harsh, adding that many of those in north Kivu would like to go back to Rwanda but did not have enough money for transport back. The Congolese returnees are currently occupying an abandoned factory in Kitchanga, where they live in poor sanitary conditions and face a shortage of food and potable water.

Meanwhile, the pressure is still on for Congolese refugees still in Rwanda's Gihembe camp to return home. During a visit early this week, a UNHCR team was told that intimidation and misinformation campaigns were continuing in the camp. In one incident, refugees attacked a camp announcer who had gone around the camp telling them to repatriate "because they had received their food ration". They also stoned a house in the camp where he had sought shelter. Policemen were called in to quell the trouble.

The UNHCR team also saw military personnel in Gihembe camp speaking to refugees about returning to the DRC. Teenage boys in the camp said they were afraid to return to their homeland because they knew they would be conscripted into rebel forces in eastern DRC.

At the same time, more than 10,000 refugee children in Gihembe camp and Kibuye province's Kiziba camp continue to be denied school, following instructions from the Rwandan government not to re-open the schools.