Rwanda has forced 6,000 Congolese refugees to return home, UN reports

10 September 2002

Continuing a practice which the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has condemned, the Government of Rwanda has forced 6,000 refugees to return to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a spokesman for the agency reported today.

Continuing a practice which the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has condemned, the Government of Rwanda has forced 6,000 refugees to return to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a spokesman for the agency reported today.

"The movement organized jointly by the Government of Rwanda and the rebel group Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD-Goma) has not been voluntary, with many refugees reporting pressure by Rwandan authorities for them to leave the camps," spokesman Kris Janowski told the press in Geneva.

Last Thursday, High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers wrote to Rwandan President Paul Kagame to express concern about the forced returns, calling for an end to the operation, which he termed "neither voluntary nor sustainable."

The number of people returning under pressure declined late last week following a visit to both camps by Rwanda's Minister of State for Local Government and a UNHCR official who told the refugees that they did not have to leave the country. UNHCR also assured the refugees that the agency would continue to provide assistance to those who did not wish to return home, and that if they eventually did, they would also receive aid.

Those assurances came in response to complaints that local officials had warned refugees that the current return operation was their last chance to return home with assistance.

Meanwhile, the refugees who have returned - mostly women and children - are being housed at a transit centre "in three old factory buildings without doors, windows or proper roofing," Mr. Janowski said.

 

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