Rwandan refugees make solemn homecoming
May 8, 1997
Web posted at: 1:00 p.m. EDT (1700 GMT)
From Correspondent Catherine Bond
KIGALI, Rwanda (CNN) -- The latest group of Rwandan refugees
returned to Kigali Thursday after six months in Zaire, their
clothes ragged, their faces wary. Although most refugees are
relieved to be returning, they fear what might lie ahead.
Authorities suspect some of the returning Hutu refugees were
involved in 1994's slaughter of more than 800,000 minority
Tutsis. Buses waited to take the refugees for security
checks as they got off the direct flight from Kisangani,
(629K/28 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)
On the other side of the airport, customs checks were
conducted; in this context, they seemed almost bizarre. Few
refugees had much luggage to bring home -- a little plastic
sheeting, small sacks of possessions, the odd Bible.
Nonetheless, they were lined up to be searched for bits of
Then, officials sprayed their feet, presumably a precaution
against spreading disease.
Easier going in home country
Despite the quiet tension among the crowds of refugees, the
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says they have
had better cooperation in Rwanda than in Kisangani, where
their efforts to repatriate refugees safely have been
frustrated by the authorities in control.
"Even on the Rwandan side we have had to negotiate quite a
bit," acknowledged Romani Urasa, a spokesman for the refugee
agency in Rwanda. But in general, he said, a functioning
system and reasonable procedures had been negotiated.
The United Nations and other relief agencies were granted
restricted access to the survivors just over a week ago.
Since then, some 10,000 have been repatriated by air. Most
are Hutus who left after the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.
60 refugees dying daily in Zaire
The ongoing airlift removed them from the horrors they
experienced in eastern Zaire -- including a final week of
hell, as camps south of the city were attacked then cut off
from aid. The agency hopes to bring home more than 80,000
refugees in all, and quickly -- more than 60 refugees were
dying in Kisangani each day, officials said.
To ask refugees exactly what happened near Kisangani puts
their lives at risk. Only the most basic questions are safe
for everyone concerned. One man, for example, tells relief
workers, quite plausibly, that he cut his foot on a tree in
He is one of the lucky few whose family has survived more or
less intact. His 2-year-old is clearly starving, but another
child and his wife are still alive.
Most refugees making it back to their homeland now are men,
aid workers say, because the men are stronger. Rwanda says
it's because many were Hutu militiamen. "I assume there will
be some arrests," Urasa said.
Children pose challenge
Yet it is the thousands of children arriving from Kisangani
who may create the greatest challenge in repatriation. Many
lost track of their parents during the first attacks on
refugee camps last October. Now, identified only by wrist
tags and labels showing where in Rwanda they are from, they
have made their way back without any adult relatives.
The younger the child, the more difficult the process of
tracing his relatives, aid workers say. Some of the youngest
can no longer remember what their parents look like.
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