Over the past three months, some 14,000 Rwandans who left the country in 1994 have returned to the northwest of the country from North Kivu, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and local authorities have indicated several thousand more could follow.
UNHCR staff in Gisenyi and Cyangugu have helped the returnees back to their communes of origin and have distributed blankets, plastic sheeting and other material to the groups. Rwandans began coming back at an average rate of 500 per we ek in January. UNHCR has been asked to establish additional transit facilities and to assist transportation on both sides of the border.
Returning Rwandans have told UNHCR that local officials in eastern DRC have warned them to go back home, and that the relative calm which now prevails in northwest Rwanda has encouraged them to do so. Rebel authorities in the DRC have warned of renewed military sweeps in the area.
UNHCR will send an international staff member back to Goma this week to reopen an office which was closed in October 1997. One of the objectives is to assess the situation of Rwandans who have remained in the heavily forested region since camps were broken up during a first rebellion in the then-Zaire in late 1996. Refugees scattered westward and an estimated 173,000 remained unaccounted for, with many dying of natural and violent causes.
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