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Rwanda: continued repatriation under duress to DRC

Briefing notes

Rwanda: continued repatriation under duress to DRC

27 September 2002

More than 100 refugees who had repatriated under duress to north Kivu in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) returned to Gihembe camp in northern Rwanda earlier this week apparently to benefit from a planned food distribution to more than 10,000 Congolese refugees still in the Rwandan camp. The group then returned to north Kivu, which is controlled by the Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD-Goma).

Apart from Wednesday's convoy carrying the group, there have been no other return movements to eastern DRC since 18 September.

Since August 31, the government of Rwanda and RCD-Goma have carried out a contentious operation which has seen the return of more than 8,500 Congolese refugees of Tutsi origin from two camps in Rwanda. Many of the returnees say they returned under duress. UNHCR is not involved in the operation and has repeatedly asked that any involuntary returns be halted.

The refugees who returned briefly to Gihembe camp from Kitchanga this week report that many of those in north Kivu would like to return to Rwanda but do not have enough money for transport back. They say living conditions in Kitchanga remain harsh. Those who returned say they paid 500 Rwandese Francs (approx. $1) to the drivers of the same buses that had taken them to north Kivu. The buses took them from Kitchanga to the DRC border town of Goma, some 80 km away. From Goma they made their own way through the Rwandan border town of Gisenyi and on to Byumba where Gihembe camp is located.

A UNHCR team which visited Gihembe camp, Byumba Province, early this week was told that intimidation and misinformation campaigns were continuing in the camp. In one incident, a camp announcer who had gone around the camp telling refugees to repatriate "because they had received their food ration" was attacked by refugees. A house in the camp in which he had sheltered was also stoned. Police were called in to quell the trouble. The team also witnessed military personnel in Gihembe camp speaking to refugees about returning to DRC.

Teenage boys in the camp say they are afraid to return to the DRC because they know they will be conscripted into rebel forces in eastern DRC. Last week, UNHCR had received complaints from refugees who said they were being told to return to the DRC to join rebel forces there.

Meanwhile, schools in both camps - Gihembe in Byumba Province and Kiziba, in Kibuye remained closed following instructions from the government not to re-open the schools. More than 10,000 school-age refugee children in the camps. which have been hosting more than 32,000 refugees, remained out of school for the second week.