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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

RWANDA-UGANDA: First batch of refugees go home

KAMPALA, 19 January 2004 (IRIN) - The first 242 of some 25,000 Rwandan refugees living in Uganda returned home on Monday, under an agreement signed by the governments of the two countries and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), an official told IRIN.

The Uganda UNHCR spokesman, Dennis Duncan, said the convoy of trucks carrying the refugees, comprising 94 families, crossed into Rwanda at 3 p.m. (13:00 GMT).

"We'll drop them off in Kigali [Rwandan capital] and then the trucks go back to Mbarara [western Uganda] almost immediately, ready to collect the next convoy the following day," he said.

He added that the convoys would leave for Kigali daily until all the refugees who had registered for repatriation returned home. Some 1,650 refugees had registered for repatriation by 12 January.

In Kigali, UNHCR official Volker Schimel told IRIN that preparations had been finalised to receive the first batch of refugees. They will stay for about a week at the Rukomo Transit Camp in Byumba Province before leaving for their original homes, he said. Volker said the stay at the transit camp would facilitate the processing of documents to enable the refugees travel to their homes.

Duncan said the refugees were "pretty excited" about returning home after nearly 10 years in exile. "They're laughing and joking and jumping around," he said.

Upon arrival at the Rukomo Camp, Volker said, the UNHCR would provide the returnees with a repatriation package comprising food and non-food items such as blankets, cooking utensils and soap.

The UNHCR will then transport the returnees to their homes and the government of Rwanda would take care of them from the moment they join their communes of origin.

The majority of the 25,000 refugees living in camps in Uganda fled either during or shortly after the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, in which extremists incited the killing of 800,000 Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus in just under 100 days, after the collapse of a 1993 Arusha Peace Agreement.

However, Uganda has hosted refugees from the troubled central African country even since before its independence from Belgian colonial rule in 1962.

The government of President Yoweri Museveni, who seized power in 1986, has been more supportive of Rwandan refugees. But in the 1990s, this support soured Uganda's relations with the administration of Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana, after he accused Museveni of sponsoring the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which repeatedly invaded Rwanda to attack government forces from October 1990. The RPF was then a rebel movement composed of Tutsi exiles living around the refugee camps in Uganda.

When Rwanda's conflict came to a head during the April 1994 genocide, prompting Paul Kagame's RPF to seize power to end the bloodshed in July, a new wave of refugees went into Uganda (as well as other neighbouring countries). Many of these were Hutus fearing reprisals for the genocide.

Diplomats and aid workers agree that President Kagame has made efforts to unite all Rwandans for peace and reconciliation, putting aside past differences.

"The refugees are very excited about what their government is saying about a new Rwanda and an end of Hutus and Tutsis," Duncan told IRIN, "I think they're really looking forward to being Rwandans."

Rwanda has signed repatriation agreements with several countries, including the Republic of Congo, Namibia, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Themes: (IRIN) Refugees/IDPs



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