Last Updated: Friday, 19 December 2014, 13:25 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2003 - Rwanda

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 June 2003
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2003 - Rwanda , 1 June 2003, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3eddc48b8.html [accessed 21 December 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Nearly 50,000 Rwandans were refugees or asylum seekers at the end of 2002, including nearly 20,000 in Uganda, about 7,000 in Malawi, some 5,000 each in Congo-Brazzaville and in Zambia, approximately 3,000 in Zimbabwe, about 3,000 in Tanzania, some 2,000 in Mozambique, nearly 1,000 in Congo-Kinshasa, approximately 1,000 in Burundi, and about 1,000 in South Africa.

More than 2,000 Rwandans were seeking asylum in Europe.

More than 30,000 Rwandan refugees and asylum seekers repatriated during the year. An estimated 25,000 Rwandans in Congo-Kinshasa were living in refugee-like circumstances, their entitlement to full refugee status uncertain pending full screening.

Rwanda hosted nearly 35,000 refugees at year's end, including more than 30,000 from Congo-Kinshasa and at least 2,000 from Burundi.

Approximately 7,000 Congolese refugees were forcibly repatriated from Rwanda to Congo-Kinshasa during 2002.

Political and Social Background Rwanda has been a major source of refugees for decades.

Hundreds of thousands of ethnic Tutsi Rwandans fled the country during the 1950s and 1960s and remained refugees for more than 30 years before returning in the mid-1990s.

A civil war in the early 1990s between Tutsi rebel exiles and a Hutu-dominated government produced a short-lived peace accord in 1993 that officially welcomed Tutsi refugees back to the country after a generation in exile.

Hutu extremists, however, launched a genocide in 1994 against the Tutsi population and politically moderate Hutu leaders. Between a 500,000 and 1 million persons, overwhelmingly Tutsi, were massacred, and tens of thousands of women and young girls were raped during 100 days of horrific bloodshed.

The scale and intensity of the killing was "unprecedented in the history of the ... entire African continent," a UN report concluded.

Tutsi rebels militarily defeated the government's Hutu-dominated army in 1994, bringing the genocide to an end.

Some 1.7 million Rwandan Hutu then fled, many of them forced to leave by their own Hutu political leaders. Large-scale repatriation of Hutu refugees has occurred annually since late-1996. Rwanda's government – ethnically mixed, but dominated by Tutsi officials in key positions – has generally encouraged Hutu refugees to repatriate.

Attacks by Rwandan Hutu insurgents claimed thousands of lives in northwest Rwanda during 1994–99, inflaming tensions that lingered after the 1994 genocide. The insurgency weakened in 1999 after Rwandan government troops invaded Congo-Kinshasa and pushed insurgents away from Rwanda's border. There were no reported insurgent attacks during 2002.

Some 2.5 million Hutu and Tutsi former refugees – nearly one-third of Rwanda's population – have attempted to reintegrate since 1994 in a country that has one of the highest population densities in Africa. "Rarely in human history has a society insisted that all its people live together again, side by side, in the aftermath of genocide," asserted Life After Death, a 1998 report by the U.S. Committee for Refugees (USCR).

Social and Political Issues in 2002 Most of Rwanda enjoyed relative peace during the year, despite social tensions linked to widespread poverty, refugee reintegration, land shortages, and continued ethnic distrust. The gradual reintegration of millions of former refugees and displaced persons continued quietly in a country still scarred by extreme poverty and the legacy of genocide.

The Rwandan government reported that more than 1 million persons suffered from malaria annually, making the disease the leading cause of death in the country. More than 500,000 Rwandans were infected with HIV/AIDS, according to estimates.

Health experts projected that the average life expectancy of Rwandan citizens would soon fall below 40 years because of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

UNICEF reported in November that Rwanda was home to more than 1 million orphaned children. "Such children live in households run by minors, in the street, or in foster homes. They are in trouble with the law, and are victims of sexual abuse and exploitation," the report concluded.

Locally elected judges presided over some 700 courts established throughout the country under a semi-traditional judicial system, known as gacaca, to bring to trial more than 100,000 individuals accused of complicity in the 1994 genocide.

The gacaca courts compiled comprehensive lists of citizens killed, citizens accused, and crimes committed during the genocide, but issued no judgments during the year.

Rwandan authorities expelled without explanation a senior UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) official in December.

Repatriation to Rwanda

More than 30,000 refugees repatriated to Rwanda during 2002, primarily from Tanzania and Congo-Kinshasa. Approximately 100,000 Rwandan refugees have repatriated since 1999, virtually all of them Hutu.

Rwandan government authorities continued to encourage refugees' return. "We are calling them to come back and work together to rebuild our country, which was devastated by the genocide," a Rwandan official announced in May.

UNHCR facilitated the voluntary repatriation of approximately 9,000 Rwandan refugees during the first nine months of 2002, primarily from Tanzania.

In September, a Tripartite Agreement among the governments of Rwanda and Tanzania and UNHCR decreed that Rwandan refugees in Tanzania should return home by December 31, 2002. Under the new agreement, some 19,000 refugees repatriated during November–December, including more than 1,000 who had fled Rwanda earlier in the year. UNHCR declared the operation officially completed at year's end.

Upon arrival in Rwanda, returnees received a three-month food supply from the World Food Program (WFP). UNHCR provided returnee families with blankets, soap, plastic sheeting, used clothing, seeds and farming tools, and transportation to their villages of origin.

International observers, including USCR, questioned whether the return was voluntary, and noted that UNHCR/Rwanda was initially caught by surprise by the repatriation deadline. A USCR site visit to Rwanda in November concluded that UNHCR reacted slowly in providing the assistance and protection monitoring needed in Rwanda to ensure that refugees repatriated in safety and dignity. Despite the significant number of returnees during 2002, funding constraints forced UNHCR to halt returnee-monitoring activities and reduce other reintegration assistance.

Refugees from Congo-Kinshasa

Most Congolese refugees in Rwanda were ethnic Tutsi who fled war and ethnic violence in Congo-Kinshasa in the mid-1990s.

Some 32,000 Congolese lived in two refugee camps at the start of 2002: approximately 17,000 in Gihembe camp, in north central Rwanda's Byumba Province, and an estimated 15,000 in Kiziba camp, in western Kibuye Province.

Nearly every Congolese refugee relied exclusively on UNHCR for basic needs, including food, water, health care, education, and clothing. UNHCR distributed fuel-efficient cooking stoves to some 3,500 families. Refugees received health education on the prevention and spread of HIV/AIDS. Aid workers curtailed income generation projects among refugees because of funding constraints.

UNHCR made several improvements in Rwanda's camps during the year. Workers built more than 300 new shelters in Kiziba to curb overcrowding and accommodate newly arrived refugees. New latrines constructed in Kiziba reduced the ratio of persons per latrine by 50 percent. Workers constructed some 500 new earthen homes in Gihembe camp.

In late 2002, Rwandan government authorities and representatives of a Congolese rebel group backed by Rwanda, the Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD-Goma), forcibly repatriated some 7,000 Congolese refugees residing in Gihembe and Kiziba camps. More than 1,000 homes and other camp infrastructure were destroyed in Gihembe as a result of the forced repatriation campaign.

A USCR site visit to Rwanda in November concluded that Rwandan government officials and RCD-Goma representatives misled Congolese refugees in Gihembe and Kiziba to believe that peace, land, and humanitarian assistance awaited returnees to eastern Congo-Kinshasa.

"Frightened refugees have reported intimidation from local security forces as the primary reason that they have decamped Gihembe and Kiziba," USCR wrote Rwandan President Kagame in September. "We strongly urge your government to avoid any further activity, including threats of forcible removal, that might influence Congolese refugees to return home against their will."

More than 1,000 forcibly repatriated Congolese refugees returned to Rwanda by year's end because of unstable conditions in Congo-Kinshasa. They experienced difficulties resettling in Rwanda because they had lost their possessions and housing when forced to leave Rwanda a few weeks earlier.

UNHCR reported that violence among refugees and against refugee women and young girls declined during 2002 because of education programs and improved discussions among camp elders and women's groups.

Rwanda is party to the UN Refugee Convention. In March, the Rwandan government enacted a national law relating to refugees. UNHCR praised the law, which provided legal protection to refugees and asylum seekers.

UNHCR vowed to assist the Rwandan government build its capacity to implement the law and eventually assume the responsibilities of refugee management.

Refugees from Burundi

More than 2,000 Burundian refugees lived in Rwanda, including about 500 who arrived during 2002. About 500 refugees resided at Kigeme camp, in Rwanda's southern Gikongoro Province; the remainder lived on their own, primarily in urban areas.

Most Burundian refugees arrived in the 1990s. While small numbers have integrated locally, the majority continued to struggle in Kigeme camp on limited humanitarian assistance.

UNHCR distributed blankets, plastic mats, water containers, and kitchen utensils to camp residents. WFP provided monthly food rations. Refugees in Kigeme also had access to health and nutrition services.

About 200 refugee students attended primary and secondary school in the camp.

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