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Last group of Rwandans in Tanzania return home, UN refugee agency says

Last group of Rwandans in Tanzania return home, UN refugee agency says

Rwandan refugee camp in Tanzania
The last of more than 500,000 Rwandans in Tanzania have returned home, marking the end of one of the most dramatic refugee exoduses in the turbulent history of Central Africa, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said today.

A final group of 3,200 refugees crossed the border into Rwanda from Tanzania last Friday, said UNHCR spokesperson Ivana Unluova. They were the last of 535,000 Rwandan Hutus who fled in mid-1994 as the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front overran the country, putting an end to mass killings by Hutu extremists that left at least 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus dead.

An estimated 1.3 million Rwandans fled to what was then eastern Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), while more than half a million escaped to Tanzania, UNHCR said. In Zaire, tens of thousands perished in a cholera epidemic that swept through huge, makeshift refugee camps near Goma in the summer of 1994.

Most of the refugees went back to Rwanda from both Zaire and Tanzania in 1996. However, at the onset of last year, Tanzania still hosted an estimated 24,000 Rwandans, in addition to more than 400,000 from Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

In September, Rwanda, Tanzania and UNHCR reached an agreement to repatriate the remaining Rwandans by the end of the year. During the final weeks of 2002, officials from the UN agency worked around the clock to register those rushing to sign up for return ahead of the 31 December deadline.