Ogata urges Rwandan refugees to consider repatriation
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees today urged Rwandan refugees caught in fighting in eastern Zaire to consider returning to Rwanda.
High Commissioner Sadako Ogata, in a statement broadcast by local radio stations in the region, said she was "deeply saddened" that Burundi and Rwandan refugees are again fleeing for their lives.
"I am afraid this terrible situation may not stop immediately, and I would like you to know that we will do everything possible, in cooperation with the authorities, to help you where we can," Ogata said.
"Because of your current ordeal, I am sure you will consider where you will be safer - in Zaire or in Rwanda. That is a decision for you to make. However, I am sincerely asking you to remember that 80,000 refugees have recently returned home to Rwanda from Burundi, and UNHCR and UN human rights observers report that they are now busy resuming normal lives."
Noting the Rwandan government has renewed its offer to receive refugees in peace, Ogata said the international community is present in Rwanda to support repeated government assurances that refugees can return safely.
UNHCR Special Envoy Dessalegn Chefeke and Rwandan government representatives on Friday visited the Rwandan border town of Cyangugu in the south-west to look into facilities to receive potential returnees.
There are three reception centres in Cyangugu with a total capacity of 15,000 per day. UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration have 120 trucks and buses available to transport returnees to their home communes.
UNHCR has stockpiled 50,000 blankets, 25,000 plastic sheets, 60,000 jerry cans, and 34,000 agricultural tools in south-western Rwanda. It has stocks of non-food items for 300,000 people in Kampala, Uganda, and in Ngara, Tanzania, that can easily be moved overland to Rwanda to meet the needs of returnees. Two emergency teams, each composed of three persons, are prepared to fly to the region.
The World Food Programme is providing a two-month food package to the returnees.
More than 300,000 Burundi and Rwandan refugees and displaced Zairians are on the move in the Uvira and Bukavu regions in eastern Zaire. They include the Burundi and Rwandan refugees who left the camps in Uvira and Rwandan refugees in Bukavu who have fled camps in the east to go to the western part of the region, fearing a Banyamulenge attack.
UNHCR has supplies in Bukavu for an estimated 80,000 refugees and displaced Zairians arriving in the area from Uvira, scene of heavy fighting between Zairian troops and the Banyamulenge.
Zaire hosts 1 million of the 1.7 million Rwandan refugees in the Great Lakes region. There also are 143,000 Burundi refugees in Zaire.
UNHCR has been having funding difficulties in its operations in the Great Lakes, which have forced the revision of its 1996 budget from $288 million to $253 million. So far, funds available total $201 million, of which $195 million has been committed.