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Statement by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the UN/DHA Pledging Conference on Rwanda, Geneva, 2 August 1994

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Statement by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the UN/DHA Pledging Conference on Rwanda, Geneva, 2 August 1994

2 August 1994

Mr. Chairman,

Three weeks ago, one of the largest and most sudden refugee crisis exploded in Zaire at the border with Rwanda. During these dramatic three weeks we have witnessed an immense level of suffering which in turn has mobilised an unprecedented effort by Governments, UN and non-governmental agencies alike. As I saw yesterday, I can say that the situation is bad but no longer desperate. The cholera epidemic has been brought under control as increasing quantities of water and food are being made available. All who are participating in this humanitarian relief operation should be commended for their efforts.

Despite the increasing assistance to the refugees, it is obvious that repatriation is the best and only solution. Indeed a few of them have already returned to Rwanda. My Office is encouraging voluntary repatriation and practical measures are being taken to assist these spontaneous movements. The reasons which have caused the refugees to flee have not disappeared. Recent political and military developments make repatriation to Rwanda a complex issue which needs to be addressed in all its dimensions.

I was particularly pleased last weekend in Kigali, to receive renewed assurances from the highest authorities of the new Government for the safe return of refugees who have not engaged in criminal activities. The Government seems genuinely committed to return and reconciliation. These commitments should, however, be measured against the physical constraints of a country presently devoid of basic services and elementary administrative structures. Confidence in their safety is the key to the return of refugees. This must be built up through a series of measures. On 31 July, a joint Rwanda/Zaire Commission met in Gisenyi. I was very pleased to hear the Zairean Vice-Prime Minister express his satisfaction following this meeting as well as the determination of his Government to implement the decisions announced during the meeting between President Bizimungu and President Mobutu.

The presence of over two million refugees in the countries surrounding Rwanda is a result of convulsions which have shaken the country, over several decades. Any solution must take into consideration the root causes. I would suggest a phased approach to the problem:

1. Recent arrivals, wishing to repatriate spontaneously, should be assisted immediately by all available means. This includes the establishment of support stations providing returnees with basic necessities including health services, and assistance upon arrival with food and non-food items. UNHCR together with several agencies will be putting up these stations.

2. Objective information about the situation in Rwanda should be made available to the refugees in the camps. This includes the use of mass information techniques such as radio broadcasts as well as organised visits by selected refugee leaders. This should aim at countering disinformation and adverse rumours being spread in the camps. The radio broadcasting system is operational as of today.

3. Careful programming of refugee return in order to promote an orderly repatriation. Special consideration is to be given to returnees from previous exoduses who cannot return to their place of origin. Planning must also incorporate the assistance and needs of the internally displaced and minority groups. A UNHCR Repatriation Task Force is already working out of Kigali.

4. Confidence building measures should be developed. This entails the Government living up to its promises and commitments, and the international community establishing a meaningful presence notably through human rights field monitors.

UNHCR is already engaged in developing these activities and counts very much on the support of all its partners to make them come through. International humanitarian presence and assistance in Rwanda is of utmost importance.

I have said that UNHCR encourages the return of refugees. It does not mean that return should be rushed. Voluntariness remains the key element to any repatriation movement. UNHCR stands ready to play its traditional role to carry out this effort. The sheer size of this task calls for a parallel effort to rehabilitate a country left abandoned by its inhabitants. This necessary element to the return of refugees and internally displaced calls for a massive intervention that is being coordinated by DHA.

Donor response to the Rwandese refugee emergency has been impressive, as I witnessed yesterday in Goma. Much more, however, needs to be done.

Regarding our appeal for service packages, four countries have come forward with water, airhead and airport services and logistics base management. Despite these contributions, there are serious unmet needs in the other sectors, particularly in site preparation, sanitation, domestic fuel and roads.

In addition, urgent in kind donations are required, such as medicines for cholera and dysentery, food items to combat malnutrition, water tankers, trucks, heavy equipment and aviation fuel. In addition cash contributions are urgently needed. Our current regional budget totals US$ 258 million, of which US$ 115 million has been allocated to the Zaire emergency to cover the next 3 months. These figures do not include the repatriation operation to Rwanda. Despite all the generous contributions, our estimated shortfall will be at least US$ 65 million. Given the rapid rate of expenditure, further cash contributions are urgent and essential.

In conclusion, our efforts must focus on three points:

  • provide assistance and protection to the refugees outside Rwanda;
  • prevent new outflows by decisive action in favour of the internally displaced;
  • and encourage voluntary repatriation by helping spontaneous returns and creating the conditions for the return of refugees in safety and dignity.

UNHCR will not fail to carry out its responsibility and I count on your support.

Thank you Mr. Chairman.