UNHCR steps up efforts to help Rwandans go home from Tanzania
NGARA, Tanzania, November 26 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency this week stepped up efforts to facilitate the return of 19,000 Rwandans still living in refugee camps in western Tanzania as they expressed growing interest in returning to their homeland.
Monday's start of what UNHCR has dubbed "repatriation week" saw 479 refugees leaving camps near Ngara, western Tanzania, for Rwanda. Travelling on a convoy of buses and trucks with their belongings, they crossed Rusumo bridge over the Kagera River that separates the two countries. Accompanied by Tanzania's Minister of Home Affairs, they were welcomed on the other side by the Rwandan authorities.
On Tuesday, 491 more Rwandans registered to go home. The return convoys are expected to run daily this week, after which the repatriation operation should return to its normal schedule of twice-weekly convoys through the end of the year.
The number of Rwandan refugees wishing to go home with UNHCR assistance has increased gradually since April, when more than 124 returned, to over 1,000 in October. So far in November, more than 2,000 Rwandans have decided to repatriate.
This increase is partly the result of confidence-building measures such as two recent "go-and-see" visits to Rwanda organised by UNHCR, where refugees were given a chance to visit Kibungo and Butare prefectures and then report back to the camps.
The majority of the recent returnees say they feel encouraged to go home after the installation of the gacaca tribunals, local traditional courts working to resolve judicial matters dating back to the 1994 genocide. The refugees were also assured by news from relatives that their property back in Rwanda remains available or that disputes that contributed to their departure have been settled.
The repatriation movements are taking place under the framework of the Tripartite Commission for Voluntary Repatriation to Rwanda signed by the UN refugee agency and the governments of Rwanda and United Republic of Tanzania in late September.
Refugees going home with UNHCR assistance receive a repatriation package - including a plastic tarpaulin, blankets, soap and used clothing - upon their arrival at Rwanda's Nyakarambi transit centre, along with food aid from the UN World Food Programme. They are then transported back to their areas of origin.
Some 7,100 Rwandans have voluntarily returned from Tanzania so far this year.