Rwandan refugees flood back toward Tanzania camps
December 13, 1996
Web posted at: 12:50 p.m. EST (1750 GMT)
BENACO CAMP, Tanzania (CNN) -- In a sudden about-face, tens
of thousands of Rwandan refugees on Friday headed back toward
camps in Tanzania that they had abandoned the day before, aid
"This is a total about-face," Michele Quintaglie of the U.N.
World Food Program said. "Only 24 hours ago, we witnessed
columns of refugees going in one direction. Now they're going
Nearly half a million refugees on Thursday trekked deeper
into Tanzania -- away from four giant camps near the
Tanzania-Rwanda border -- to avoid being repatriated by the
end of the month, a deadline announced by the Tanzanian
government and the UNHCR last week. Hutu refugees fear
retribution for the 1994 genocide
of minority Tutsis in Rwanda if they go home.
On Friday, some crossed into Rwanda, but thousands more broke
through a Tanzanian army cordon and headed back to the camps.
Soldiers at first beat some with sticks but gave up when it
was clear they had been overrun.
"We were told by a Tanzanian army person today that they are
gently trying to push the refugees back into Rwanda. They put
up a road barricade earlier today in order to stop the influx
deeper into Tanzania," Julie Johnstone of the World Food
Program told CNN.
Johnstone said it was unclear exactly how many refugees
returned to camps. But she said the Tanzanian military was
able to "turn around a very large number of refugees" and
keep them from moving deeper into Tanzania.
Tanzania holds 535,000 Rwandan Hutu refugees, more than any
other Central African country, and the government has given
them until December 31 to leave voluntarily.
Asked if the refugees felt threatened by the army, Johnstone
said, "No. The Tanzanian government has been very good to the
refugees here. They're in very good hands." (264K/24 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
The greatest problem, she said, is that
if the refugees move deep into Tanzania there will be "no
provisions for water or assistance of any kind." (315K/27 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
She added, "I think at this point (the refugees) are just
very, very confused."
Reuters contributed to this report.
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