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Rwandan refugees: in Tanzania, returns; in Zaire, search goes on

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Rwandan refugees: in Tanzania, returns; in Zaire, search goes on

16 December 1996 Also available in:

Tens of thousands of Rwandan refugees in Tanzania swept back into Rwanda on Monday as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees pressed ahead with efforts to locate substantial numbers missing in eastern Zaire.

The day's arrivals had reached approximately 51,200 as of 12:15 p.m. local time. At one point, field officers counted as many as 15,000 crossing each hour. A total of 90,000 Rwandan refugees have now returned home from Tanzania since 1 December - the vast majority over the last three days.

In Zaire, a UNHCR team arrived in Kinshasa over the weekend to look into reports by an earlier UN mission that 100,000 to 150,000 refugees had converged in Shabunda, about 175 kilometres west of the eastern border town of Bukavu.

Led by Jiddo van Drunen, head of operations of the special unit for Rwanda and Burundi in Geneva, the team also will look into reports by a non-governmental organization, Action of Churches, that more than 100,000 refugees and displaced Zairians are sheltering in Lubutu, 300 kilometres west of the Zaire-Rwanda border.

The team will investigate practical possibilities for moving these refugees toward Rwanda and bringing them emergency assistance from UNHCR stockpiles in eastern Africa. It also hopes to locate substantial numbers of unaccounted refugees.

In Tanzania, the refugees started flooding back into Rwanda over the weekend despite an earlier move orchestrated by extremist forces opposing their return which led them to flee into the interior.

Tanzania announced on 5 December that conditions in Rwanda are now conducive for people to return in safety and that the 535,000 Rwandan refugees on its soil must go back to their country before the end of the year. It pointed out that massive numbers of refugees from Zaire have returned peacefully to Rwanda.

An estimated 500,000 refugees from eastern Zaire's Goma region returned to Rwanda over four days beginning on 15 November. In addition, another 60,000 have returned since then. Between 700 and 1,200 refugees continue to arrive daily into Rwanda from Zaire through the Goma and Bukavu crossing points.

As of 11 December, UNHCR had registered 474,333 returnees who had returned to their home communities in Rwanda. The number comprises approximately 80-85 percent of the those who crossed back into the country from Zaire.

Before fighting broke out in eastern Zaire in October, UNHCR cared for 1.2 million refugees in eastern Zaire, including 719,000 in Goma, 307,000 in Bukavu and 219,000 in Uvira. The Uvira figure includes 143,000 Burundi refugees, of whom 60,000 have returned to Burundi.