Rwanda returns from Uganda cross 1,000
MBARARA, Uganda, March 29 (UNHCR) - More than 1,100 Rwandan refugees have gone home from Uganda this year in an ongoing repatriation movement organised by the UN refugee agency that started in January.
On Monday morning, 228 Rwanda refugees - about half of them children - left Nakivale camp in Uganda's south-western Mbarara district. They travelled south in five UNHCR trucks and crossed the Rwandan border, where they were welcomed by fellow Rwandans. The returnees were visibly happy to be back. Many had not seen their home country in at least 10 years, while their children had been born in the settlements and were setting foot in Rwanda for the first time.
Two more convoys of a similar size from Uganda's Oruchinga and Kyaka II camps are scheduled to follow this week. Of the 3,000 Rwandan refugees who have registered for the UNHCR return programme this year, the agency expects that more than half will have returned to their country by the end of this week.
An estimated 2 million people fled Rwanda in the wake of the 1994 genocide. UNHCR believes that as at mid-2003, there were still some 60,000 Rwandan refugees in the region. Uganda hosts some 18,000 of them, whom the government hopes to assist home under a voluntary repatriation agreement with the Rwandan government and UNHCR.
The Rwandan authorities have established a transit camp at Byumba, 25 km from the border with Uganda, that can register more than 500 people per day. This modern facility was built to speedily process the returnees back to national status within one day, after which each family will receive a repatriation package containing a basic kitchen set, plastic sheeting, blankets, jerry cans and soap.
The repatriation exercise will continue as long as refugees wish to return home from Uganda's Kyaka II, Nakivale and Oruchinga refugee settlements. A UNHCR-sponsored information campaign is keeping them abreast of safety conditions in Rwanda and urging them to register for an orderly and swift return home.
Eager to welcome back its refugees, the newly-elected government in Rwanda has signed similar agreements with Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Malawi, Namibia, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The UN refugee agency expects to help two-thirds of the remaining 60,000 Rwandan refugees in the region to return home this year.