CNN World News

Rwandan refugees still fill camps in Zaire


December 22, 1995
Web posted at: 12:40 p.m. EST (1740 GMT)

From Correspondent Gary Strieker

GOMA, Zaire (CNN) -- Hutus and Tutsis are no longer fighting in Rwanda, but there are still more than a million Rwandan refugees in crowded camps in neighboring Zaire.

Virtually all of them are ethnic Hutus. Most are still afraid to go home, fearing Rwanda's government and army are now dominated by hostile Tutsis seeking revenge for last year's massacres.

There is a trickle of returnees, weary of living in the squalid camps.

"I'm always sick here," said one refugee "The food is so bad. I'll try to find my relatives in Rwanda."

He added that he believes what he's heard from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees -- that it's now safe to return to Rwanda. But that message is ignored by the vast majority of people in the camps.


Most of those returning are women and children. Very few men will face the risk of interrogation by Tutsi soldiers.

Until last month, more than a thousand returning refugees were crossing the border every week. But now the numbers are steadily decreasing -- this week fewer than 300 are expected to leave the camps and return to Rwanda.

U.N. officials believe the numbers would increase if hard- line Hutus in the camps were arrested. That would stop the intimidation of refugees who want to go home, and curtail the misinformation and propaganda which convinces many that returning to Rwanda is suicide.

At a summit conference in Cairo last month, Zaire's President Mobutu Sese Seko pledged to arrest intimidators in the camps, where security is maintained by a contingent of Zairian soldiers equipped and monitored by the U.N. But so far there's no indication these military units have taken any special measures.


Meanwhile, with food assistance in the camps at a minimum level, U.N. officials say malnutrition is increasing, and the money needed for further aid is running out. The regional governor in Zaire says that the refugees have worn out their welcome, and threatens that civil and military authorities will take every step necessary to persuade them to leave.


With no end in sight to the glut of refugees, the situation could get worse next year.

"We'll be at a dead end, in a sort of strange cold war, with increasing tension along the border areas," said Joel Boutroue of the U.N. High Commission for Refugees. "And that can trigger off anything.

The chief concern is that nothing will convince these people to return home, and that Zaire will eventually use force to close the camps and expel the refugees. And that action would create yet another humanitarian crisis in a region that has had its share.

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