UNHCR mounts campaign for return of 80,000 Rwandan refugees
KAMPALA, Uganda, Nov 6 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency has launched a campaign to promote the voluntary return of some 80,000 Rwandan refugees, most of them in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
These refugees are believed to be all that remain of an estimated 2 million Rwandans who fled to neighbouring countries in the Great Lakes region of Africa in the wake of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda that left more than 800,000 people dead.
Following a Rwandan-backed uprising in October 1996 in the DRC, then known as Zaire, more than 600,000 Rwandans returned to Rwanda. In December that same year, 500,000 Rwandans swept back into their country from the other side, in Tanzania.
Returns, both organised and spontaneous, have taken place since, including massive numbers from Burundi. Last year, some 23,000 and 11,000 Rwandans returned from Tanzania and the DRC respectively.
On Monday and Tuesday, representatives of UNHCR and the Ugandan government met with refugees at Nakivale and Oruchinga camps to discuss the first organised repatriation programme for 25,000 Rwandan refugees in Uganda. The first convoys from these two camps located in Uganda's south-western district of Mbarrara are expected to bring refugees back to Rwanda in the coming weeks.
Under the programme, they will be transported to the Rwandan border for onward travel to their home villages. They will also receive an assistance package consisting of plastic sheeting, kitchen sets, jerry cans, soap and a three-month supply of food from the World Food Programme.
UNHCR has helped return 11,900 Rwandan refugees from the DRC this year and the refugee agency plans to bring back the rest of some 21,000 Rwandans remaining in that country next year.
On Tuesday, UNHCR signed a tripartite agreement with Rwanda and Malawi for the return of around 5,000 refugees from Malawi, and discussions began in Kigali for the return of several thousand more Rwandans from Namibia. Also this year, 80 Rwandans have gone home from Zambia.
High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers said in April during a visit to Tanzania that while the refugee agency regarded Rwanda as safe for returns, repatriation must be voluntary.
Lubbers' message was repeated during a meeting in Uganda's camps conducted by UNHCR representatives and the Ugandan minister in charge of refugees, Christine Aporu Amogin. Rwandan officials are also being invited to participate in an information campaign on conditions in Rwanda.