USCR Country Report Rwanda: Statistics on refugees and other uprooted people, Jun 2001

Report
from US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Published on 19 Jun 2001
Approximately 55,000 Rwandans were refugees and asylum seekers at the end of 2000: nearly 30,000 in Tanzania, some 15,000 in Uganda, about 5,000 in Congo-Brazzaville, up to 3,000 in Kenya, about 1,000 each in Burundi and Congo-Kinshasa, and 2,000 new Rwandan asylum seekers in Europe.
An estimated 30,000 Rwandans in Congo-Kinshasa were living in refugee-like circumstances, their entitlement to full refugee status uncertain pending full screening.

Approximately 150,000 Rwandans were internally displaced at the end of 2000, although estimates varied widely because of different definitions about which populations qualified as displaced.

Rwanda hosted nearly 30,000 refugees at year's end, including about 28,000 from Congo-Kinshasa, and some 1,000 from Burundi.

Some 25,000 Rwandan refugees repatriated during the year, while nearly 10,000 new refugees fled the country.

Pre-2000 Events

Rwanda has been a 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.

A largely Tutsi rebel group, the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA), invaded the country in 1990 to pressure Rwanda's ethnic Hutu-dominated government to allow the repatriation of Tutsi refugees. A peace accord in 1993 stated that Rwanda's many refugees had a right to return to their homeland and called for government power-sharing.

Before large-scale repatriation of the Tutsi refugee population occurred, however, extremists in the government launched a genocide against the resident Tutsi population and politically moderate Hutu leaders in 1994. A half-million to a million persons, overwhelmingly Tutsi, were massacred. The scale and intensity of the three-month genocide were "unprecedented in the history of the...entire African continent," a UN report stated.

The RPA halted the genocide by defeating the extremist-led government. Some 1.7 million Rwandan Hutu responded to the RPA victory by fleeing the country, many of them forced to leave by their own Hutu hardline political leaders.

The change in government persuaded some 800,000 long-time Tutsi refugees to repatriate during 1994-96. Hundreds of thousands of Hutu refugees suddenly returned in late 1996 under controversial circumstances precipitated by civil war in Congo-Kinshasa (also known as the Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly Zaire) and expulsion by Tanzania. Another 200,000 Hutu refugees returned to Rwanda during 1997. More than 30,000 additional Hutu refugees gradually repatriated during 1998-99.

Reintegration of 2.5 million Hutu and Tutsi former refugees "nearly one-third of Rwanda's 8 million popula tion" was complicated by an insurgency in northwest Rwanda that left thousands more people dead. Although the insurgency weakened in 1999, up to 600,000 persons remained internally displaced because of government land-use policies that sought to move part of the rural population into poorly planned villages in order to improve security and facilitate economic development and social services.

"Rarely in human history has a society...insisted that all its people live together again, side by side, in the aftermath of genocide," stated Life After Death, a 1998 report by the U.S. Committee for Refugees.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) warned in late 1999 that "although the security situation in Rwanda has improved, continued peace and stability will depend on the successful reintegration of present and future returnees."

Political and Security Situation in 2000

Rwanda continued to emerge gradually from the shadow of the 1994 genocide. Insurgent raids occurred infrequently during 2000, and UN humanitarian officials reported that "the security situation in Rwanda remains calm." The Rwandan military's involvement in neighboring Congo-Kinshasa had pushed Hutu extremist insurgents out of Rwanda and away from the country's border.

The government convened a Summit on Reconciliation and Unity in October, attended by a cross-section of civil society. At least 110,000 persons remained imprisoned awaiting trial for their alleged role in the genocide. Some 1,100 prisoners died during the year because of disease and mistreatment in the overcrowded jails. Rwandan lawmakers continued to consider a change in the country's legal code that would bring genocide suspects to justice more rapidly using a traditional Rwandan legal system known as gacaca law, in which local communities determine individuals' guilt and punishment.

An investigation by the Organization of African Unity into the 1994 genocide concluded in mid-2000 that the United States and other major nations "knew exactly what was happening" during the genocide and chose not to stop it. The report added that "innocent Hutu are killed and abuses of human rights" continued to occur in Rwanda during 1999-2000.

Uprooted Rwandans

More than 200,000 Rwandans were uprooted at the end of 2000, including some 150,000 who were internally displaced, and more than 55,000 refugees and asylum seekers who lived in a number of countries.

Nearly 10,000 Rwandans fled to Tanzania during 2000, joining 20,000 Rwandan refugees already living there. Most of the new refugees fled from southeast Rwanda's Kibungo Province.

Sources reported different reasons why the new asylum seekers fled the country. Many who fled said they feared arbitrary arrests and disappearances inside Rwanda. Some international observers, however, reported that Rwandans were fleeing drought, land disputes, or because they feared implementation of local gacaca judicial proceedings against genocide suspects. Rwandan government officials charged that leaders of Rwandan refugee camps in Tanzania enticed people to flee Rwanda in exchange for money.

Widely divergent estimates of the number of internally displaced Rwandans existed because various humanitarian and human rights agencies used differing definitions of "displacement." Estimates ranged from as few as 3,000 displaced persons, to as many as 300,000. The root of the wide discrepancy was the Rwandan government's controversial policy of villagization, which has required up to 600,000 rural Rwandans "Hutu and Tutsi" to relocate into 180 or more newly established village sites since 1997.

Government officials argued that villagization would ease land pressures in Africa's most densely populated country and enable residents to benefit from schools, health centers, and other economic opportunities while maintaining access to nearby farm land. Critics charged that the relocation policy was a coercive security measure by the government.

Although villagization was officially voluntary, tens of thousands of persons reportedly moved into the designated villages involuntarily. Services at many sites were poor. A Rwandan government survey in 1999 found that 40 percent of people living at villagization sites in the northwest wanted to return to their original homes. A 1999 UN human rights report countered that "if proper services were provided in advance, settlers would be clamoring for admission" to the new villages.

According to various UN humanitarian reports during 2000, some 130,000 to 170,000 residents at villagization sites lacked adequate housing, including thousands who lived under plastic sheeting; about 23,000 relocated families lacked adequate land; and approximately 150,000 recently settled persons required special humanitarian assistance.

"A fair number of the grouped village settlements still lack the necessary social and economic infrastructures to enable the population to undertake activities leading to sustainable...development," a UN report stated in November.

UN officials and diplomats continued to press Rwandan authorities during the year for assurances that the villagization process was truly voluntary. The UN Human Rights Commission's special representative to Rwanda expressed concerns about villagization but concluded that "it is both understandable and prudent for the government to be framing a national policy" on land use.

After years of debate among international aid organizations about whether they should assist Rwanda's villagization process, humanitarian agencies issued a "framework" in 2000 outlining their cautious involvement. The document stated that "not all sites are sustainable in the long-term, and questions of land tenure, availability of services and utilities, and opportunities for sustainable livelihoods need to be addressed."

At year's end, the U.S. Committee for Refugees counted about 150,000 Rwandans as internally displaced. This total primarily included people who lived at villagization sites without proper shelter or land allocations.

Repatriation to Rwanda

Approximately 25,000 Rwandan refugees repatriated during 2000, including about 22,000 from neighboring Congo-Kinshasa, and some 2,000 from Tanzania. Approximately 60,000 refugees have repatriated to Rwanda since 1999, virtually all of them Hutu.

Rwandan refugees returned home from Congo-Kinshasa because continued warfare there made asylum unsafe. Some international aid workers expressed skepticism that all the repatriations were entirely voluntary and encouraged UNHCR to strengthen its monitoring of the repatriation program. Many returnees in 2000 "were vulnerable and in poorer physical and health conditions than those who returned in 1999," UNHCR reported.

Returnees usually stayed one or two days in Rwandan transit centers before riding to their home regions in UNHCR-chartered buses or traveling home on their own using a transportation allowance supplied by UNHCR. The repatriation program offered 30 days of food rations, plastic sheeting for shelter, water cans, soap, and other non-food items.

Returnees from Congo-Kinshasa "are viewed with suspicion in Rwanda" because of their possible role in the 1994 genocide, UNHCR reported. However, government authorities gave most returnees new identity cards and detained relatively few new arrivals during the year, according to UNHCR. Most returning families regained use of their homes, but illegal squatters continued to occupy some houses and were "the dominant cause of problems" for some returnees, UNHCR stated. UNHCR acknowledged that budget constraints limited its ability to monitor and protect returnees.

Returnees from Tanzania were predominantly refugees who had fled from southeast Rwanda during 1999-2000. Repatriations increased late in the year after the government installed new officials in the southeast Rwanda border area and the new officials visited refugee camps in Tanzania to assure refugees that they would be safe at home.

Tanzanian authorities forcibly repatriated up to 80 Rwandan refugees and asylum seekers during 2000, including several former soldiers who were detained upon their return to Rwanda.

Reintegration Conditions

Conditions for reintegration and reconstruction in Rwanda continued to be mixed. Although peace prevailed throughout most of the country, ethnic and political tensions lingered.

"In many ways, the progress the country has made since the 1994 genocide is remarkable," an OAU report stated in mid-year. "To the superficial observer, Rwanda has returned to normality.... But in reality, the legacy of the genocide can be found in every aspect of society and governance.... It must never be forgotten that we are dealing here with the extraordinary circumstances of a post-genocidal society."

Rwanda remained one of the 12 poorest countries on earth, according to UN statistics. Two-thirds of the population lived below the poverty line. In the aftermath of civil war and genocide, at least 60,000 households were headed by single females or by children, UNICEF reported. Some 400,000 school-age children did not attend school.

A housing survey in late 1999 found that more than a quarter-million persons were living under plastic sheeting instead of in houses, primarily in the key returnee provinces of Kibungo in the southeast, and Ruhengeri and Gisenyi in the northwest. An additional 65,000 persons lived in damaged houses, while some 60,000 more squatted illegally in houses owned by others. Government efforts to evict thousands of illegal squatters from houses in the northwest triggered a protest in September.

Drought affected at least 270,000 Rwandans, according to the World Food Program. One-fifth of the residents in some drought-stricken areas temporarily migrated from their land. Despite the drought, the massive return of refugees in recent years enabled Rwanda to increase agricultural yields by nearly one-fourth and to cultivate 10 percent more land during 2000.

A new Rwandan law granted widows the right to inherit their land for the first time. Aid workers and government officials hailed the new law's reintegration benefits.

Refugees from Congo-Kinshasa

Nearly 30,000 Congolese refugees lived in Rwanda at the end of 2000. Most were ethnic Tutsi Congolese who arrived in Rwanda in the mid-1990s because of war and ethnic violence in their own country. About 700 new refugees arrived during the year.

The vast majority lived at two camps. The largest, Gihembe camp in north central Rwanda's Byumba Province, housed some 15,000 refugees. Kiziba camp in western Rwanda's Kibuye Province contained about 12,000 residents. A recount of the refugee population by aid workers during 2000 revealed that the actual number of refugees was about 13 percent less than previously believed.

Congolese received regular food aid, blankets, plastic sheeting, water cans, and soap. UNHCR piped drinking water to the two camps and delivered additional water by tanker truck to the Gihembe site. Refugees and humanitarian workers constructed 600 new shelters at Gihembe during the year. A shortage of latrines forced health workers to begin digging nearly 450 additional latrines and 80 new garbage pits, but funding constraints prevented their completion. Refugees complained that distributions of food and soap were inadequate.

Refugee children attended primary school in the camps and secondary schools outside the camps. Refugee adults had access to literacy education. For environmental reasons, each refugee received about 2 pounds (1 kg) of firewood per week for cooking. UNHCR has planted some 300,000 trees near the camps.

UNHCR reported that assistance projects benefiting refugee women received priority funding, but gender violence remained a "serious problem" in the camps. Health workers reported 500 cases of sexually transmitted diseases. Refugees formed women's committees to address women's issues; UNHCR reportedly consulted with the committees regularly.

Some 5,000 Congolese refugees repatriated from Rwanda to Congo-Kinshasa during 2000 against the advice of UNHCR and Rwandan authorities. Aid workers reported that the "clandestine returns" occurred at night after leaders from the refugees' home region of eastern Congo visited the refugee camps and enticed refugees to return home with dubious promises that assistance and security awaited them. Some refugees who chose to repatriate subsequently returned to Rwanda.

Refugees from Burundi

Approximately 1,000 Burundian refugees lived in Rwanda. About 500 resided at Kigeme camp in Gikongoro Province; the remaining refugees lived on their own.

Because virtually all the refugees were ethnic Hutu, Rwandan officials "severely curtailed" the refugees' freedom of movement by subjecting them to arrest if they left their camp without authorization, UNHCR reported. UNHCR stated in 1999 that conditions in the camp were "not up to the desired standards."

Copyright 2001, USCR