More than 46,000 Rwandans were refugees or asylum seekers at the end of 2003, including about 20,000 in Uganda, about 7,000 in Malawi, some 6,000 each in Congo-Brazzaville and in Zambia, about 2,000 in Zimbabwe, some 2,000 in Mozambique, nearly 1,000 in Congo-Kinshasa, about 1,000 in Burundi, and about 1,000 in South Africa.

More than 22,000 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 some 37,000 refugees at year's end, including more than 35,000 from Congo-Kinshasa and nearly 2,000 from Burundi.

About 7,000 Congolese refugees who were forcibly repatriated from Rwanda to Congo-Kinshasa during 2002 returned to Rwanda during 2003.

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 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, ending the genocide. 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.

Social and Political Issues in 2003

Most of Rwanda enjoyed relative peace during the year, despite continued social tensions linked to widespread poverty, refugee reintegration, land shortages, and 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 adoption of a new constitution in May and the country's first post-1994 genocide presidential and legislative elections in September occurred without violence. Locally elected judges presided over nearly 1,000 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 continued to compile comprehensive lists of citizens killed, citizens accused, and crimes committed during the genocide, but issued no judgments for the second consecutive year.

Repatriation to Rwanda

More than 22,000 refugees repatriated to Rwanda during 2003, primarily from Congo-Kinshasa and Tanzania. About 125,000 have repatriated since 1999, virtually all of them Hutu. The Rwandan government has repeatedly encouraged Rwandan refugees to repatriate. In April, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) declared Rwanda safe for refugee return, but stressed that it should be voluntary. The government of Rwanda and UNHCR signed Tripartite Agreements with the governments of Congo-Brazzaville, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe during 2003 to assist return. During 2003, UNHCR aided the voluntary repatriation of about 12,000 Rwandan refugees from Congo-Kinshasa, more than 4,000 from Tanzania, and several thousand others from various African countries. The World Food Programme (WFP) provided overland returnees with a three-month food supply. UNHCR provided returnee families with blankets, sleeping mats, soap, water containers, plastic sheeting, and transportation to their villages of origin. UNHCR gave $100 to adult returnees and $50 per child who arrived by air. Despite the significant number of returnees during 2003, UNHCR delayed the delivery of, and substantially reduce reintegration assistance for the second consecutive year for lack of funds. UNHCR was unable to give returnees housing materials and seeds and tools for farming and phased out critical monitoring activities.

Refugees from Congo-Kinshasa

Congolese refugees in Rwanda, mostly ethnic Tutsi who fled war and ethnic violence in Congo-Kinshasa in the mid-1990s, lived in two refugee camps and in urban areas. More than 17,000 lived in Gihembe camp, in north central Rwanda's Byumba Province, and nearly 16,000 in Kiziba camp, in western Kibuye Province.

Nearly all the camp-based refugees relied exclusively on UNHCR for food, water, health care, education, and clothing. Funding shortfalls forced WFP to reduce food rations 15 percent from October-November. Nearly 9,000 Congolese refugee children attended primary and secondary school in their camps. UNHCR built more than 1,000 new shelters to curb overcrowding and house newly arrived refugees, eight new bridges, and more than 1.5 miles (3 km) of roads in the camps.

In late 2002, Rwandan 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, destroying more than 1,000 homes and other camp infrastructure. Nearly all of the forcibly repatriated Congolese refugees returned to the camps in 2003. While workers helped restore all of the camps' public facilities destroyed in 2002, they were only able to rehabilitate 40 percent of the houses. More than 600 forcibly repatriated Congolese refugees who returned to Rwanda during 2003 remained in community shelters at year's end. In late 2003, a UNHCR survey revealed that the majority of Congolese refugees living in Rwanda were unwilling to return home because of unstable conditions in eastern Congo-Kinshasa.

Refugees from Burundi

Nearly 2,000 Burundian refugees lived in Rwanda, including about 300 who arrived during 2003. More than 700 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 assistance. UNHCR distributed blankets, plastic mats, water containers, and kitchen utensils to camp residents. WFP reduced food rations by 15 percent from October-November for lack of funds.


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