The refugees, who either changed their nationality to enable them to live in Burundian refugee camps or escaped into Tanzanian villages, are now re-registering as Rwandans and demanding repatriation, in accordance with the recently completed voluntary repatriation operation, the spokeswoman, Ivana Unluova, said.
"These people either declared themselves as Burundians or they simply disappeared from the camps during the forced repatriation of Rwandan refugees in 1996," she said. "We knew there had been some that did this, but had no idea of the extent of the numbers."
She said that UNHCR would begin repatriating these refugees "as soon as possible" and that the final tally of newly registered Rwandans could reach 12,000 as more refugees follow suit.
Overall, she added, the repatriation process had taken place "by and large without any excesses or problems" and that this new caseload and the large numbers of returnees in November and December - some 19,000 - was more a result of favourable conditions than pressure from either the Tanzanian or Rwandan governments.
"There was obviously the strictly presented deadline that was set by the Tanzanian government, but we agreed to it. The primary factor was the intense information exchange," she said.
"The biggest help has been the positive developments inside Rwanda. The refugees have been told about them by missions to the camps of fresh returnees and some have seen them for themselves," she said.
"Also, once the first big groups started leaving, I think the operation gained momentum and there was a pull-factor as people's neighbours, families and friends began to leave. Furthermore it was helped, to a certain extent, by an improved repatriation package."
Humanitarian agencies concur with UNHCR's view on the repatriation process.
"Pressure was there, in a verbal form, but the refugees went home willingly and the process went smoothly and calmly," Mark Wigley, deputy director of Norwegian People's Aid, one of UNHCR's implementing partners in Ngara, told IRIN.
"I was there in 1996 and this was nothing like that," he said. "People needed a little impetus but there was no intimidation at all, and people started going home. All that remain are some 50 people who, for some special reasons, believe that they can not go back."
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