The number of refugees being forced to return from Rwanda to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has slowed in recent days, but the authorities are still pressuring the Congolese to go back home, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported today.
“From 600 persons returning daily a week ago, the average rate of return fell to less than 100 over the weekend, then climbed again on Monday, when 200 departures were reported from one of the Rwanda camps,” UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski told reporters in Geneva.
The agency has launched an information campaign to advise refugees that any return to DRC should be voluntary, but they continue to report intimidation from local security forces “banging on their doors and yelling that it was time they went home,” he said. Those who had gone back to the DRC said they left hurriedly, leaving behind personal belongings and even family members, which Mr. Janowski read as “an indication they left under duress.”
Conditions for the new arrivals are difficult. In the village of Kitchanga, returnees are living in an old factory “without mattresses or privacy and [in] fear that the little food they brought along from Rwanda will soon run out,” the spokesman said. The sanitary situation is described as “intolerable,” with only three latrines for a population of 8,100.
Since the forced movement started two weeks ago, the Congolese of Tutsi origin have been transported by bus from the camps in Rwanda up to Lake Kivu, where a ferry takes them across to Goma, according to UNHCR. From Goma they continue the ride to Kitchanga, but for many, their homeland is in Masisi region, 107 kilometres to the northwest.