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Return of Rwandans from Zambia: UNHCR stresses voluntariness

Briefing notes

Return of Rwandans from Zambia: UNHCR stresses voluntariness

21 January 2003

UNHCR is making arrangements for the voluntary return of more than 5,000 Rwandan refugees living in camps in Zambia following the signing last Thursday of a return agreement between the two governments and UNHCR. The agreement, reached in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, is the first in a series to be signed this year with the government of Rwanda and countries hosting Rwandan refugees. It comes as UNHCR shifts its repatriation policy to Rwanda from mere facilitation to active promotion of return.

In preparation for the return operation from Zambia, expected to begin in April, UNHCR will launch an information campaign to inform refugees of plans being made for their return home. They will be told of travel arrangements, return packages and reintegration assistance inside Rwanda. All of these are now being worked out with both governments. The information campaign will be immediately followed by a registration of refugees who are willing to return home. Those wishing to return will be required to sign voluntary repatriation forms to confirm that their decision to return is voluntary. A majority of Rwandan refugees in Zambia are living in Meheba and Mayukwayukwa camps in the west. There are also smaller numbers in urban centres in the country.

Under the terms of the agreement signed in Kigali last week, the information campaign should culminate in a visit to refugee camps in Zambia by a delegation of Rwandan government officials and recent returnees. The delegation will speak to refugees about conditions prevailing in Rwanda. It is hoped that their visit before the end of March will build confidence among the refugees. Another delegation consisting of Zambian government officials and Rwandan refugee leaders is also expected to travel to Rwanda during the same period to acquaint refugee leaders of the prevailing situation in their areas of origin.

Many of the Rwandan refugees arrived in Zambia more than seven years ago in the wake of the 1994 Rwandan genocide which left an estimated half a million people dead and displaced another 2 million into neighbouring countries. Nearly all the displaced have since returned to their homes in Rwanda, aside from an estimated 60,000 scattered across various countries throughout the African continent.