UN protests Rwanda’s forced repatriation of Congolese refugees
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Ruud Lubbers, today registered his opposition to the Rwandan Government’s apparent forced return of some 1,500 people who had fled across the border of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
In a letter to Rwandan President Paul Kagame protesting the ongoing repatriation from refugee camps in northern and western Rwanda, Mr. Lubbers said UNHCR would not be associated with the operation, which “appears to be neither voluntary nor sustainable.”
Over the past few days, nearly 1,500 refugees have been forcibly returned in four separate movements to north Kivu in the eastern DRC, according to the agency, which said the Government of Rwanda was joined by the rebel group Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD-Goma) in mounting the ongoing operation.
The High Commissioner asked Rwanda to end the forced returns, saying they were “at variance with the basic principles of voluntary repatriation, whereby refugees must be able to make a free and informed decision to return.”
Some Congolese refugees reported that Rwandan authorities had warned them that this was their last chance to return home with assistance, while others said they had been threatened with forcible removal should they decline to leave. Such statements “clearly indicate that these return movements are being carried out under duress,” Mr. Lubbers noted.
Citing security and other concerns, groups of refugees approached UNHCR asking that it intercede with the Government to allow them to stay in Rwanda, but the agency said they are increasingly reluctant to speak out for fear of arrest.
UNHCR estimates that Rwanda is host to 35,800 refugees, mainly from the DRC.