Burundi/Zaire/Tanzania/Rwanda (September 1995)
by Humanitarian Practice Network September 1995

There are still an estimated 3.2 million refugees and internally displaced people affected by this regional emergency. Movement of relief supplies is hampered by serious insecurity, particularly in Burundi; there are reports of between 50 and 100 people killed each night and attacks on the roads are such that UNHCR repatriation efforts from Burundi to Rwanda are still being undertaken by plane. The situation is compounded by the fact that due to a limited number of implementing partners in the area, private transporters are being used and often refuse to enter areas of high insecurity. The closure of the camps inside Rwanda led to an influx of refugees into Burundi and current estimates show nearly 215,000 refugees in need of assistance. The majority of security incidents reported over the last three months have been in and around the capital Bujumbura and in provinces such as Cibitoke, resulting in approximately 300,000 internally displaced within the country. The situation for NGO staff is worrying – there have been numerous reports of NGO vehicles and convoys attacked and staff threatened.

FAO/WFP reports of a good harvest have contributed to a decision by a joint government/WFP/donor survey which recommended the phasing out of general food assistance to the internally displaced by March 1996 and concentration on those without access to land and targeting of vulnerable groups. This decision needs to be carefully monitored for nutritional and health impact.

The situation in Rwanda remains tense. Although more stable than neighbouring Burundi, there remains a possibility of violence spreading across the borders from the armed refugee camps in Zaire and the recent changes in the Rwandan government (with the resignation of the Attorney General, and the removal of the Prime Minister, both Hutu) demonstrate a worrying hardening of orientation along ethnic lines. Such developments in the political configuration of the country do nothing to improve the prospects for repatriation of refugees still gathered in very large numbers in Zaire and Tanzania.

Following the suspension of forced repatriation of refugees by the Government of Zaire on 25 August 1995, there has been a very limited response to the UNHCR calls for voluntary repatriation and, despite the closing of the border by the Tanzania Government in March, the total number of refugees has continued to rise slowly. This slow progress at repatriating the refugees is raising concerns that the Zairean Government will resume forced repatriation operations – Sadako Ogata was told that the deadline is 31 December 1995. The refugees’ fear of reprisals is very real and the recent shooting of 100 Hutu villagers by RPF soldiers in retaliation for a grenade attack on an RPF jeep has done little to encourage refugees to return.

The rehabilitation programme is up and running and targeted at those communes which received the largest number of returnees. Food is supplied to support a variety of first stage recovery activities and food-for-work programmes have been successfully undertaken in sectors such as infrastructure building, water and sanitation and education. A good July harvest offers hope to those who have returned.

UNAMIR troops have had their mandate extended in scope and time, and are now supporting and assisting provision of humanitarian aid, contributing to security of UN staff and the training the local police force.

The security situation in the Zairean camps is volatile, despite a slight improvement since the deployment of the Zairean contingent – a dedicated Zairean force with special remit for camp security. Nonetheless, with forty international relief staff evacuated due to insecurity in Goma, and a CARE truck destroyed by an anti-tank mine at a CARE compound earlier in September, difficulties for relief services are considerable. The closing of the Rwanda/Zaire border, poor roads and rising railway costs in Uganda have led to difficulties with distribution of general rations, although overall surveys of the nutrition situation do not show serious deterioration. A particular problem is the need to increase the levels of maize meal in the rations in Goma, particularly given the milling capacity problems there. Bukavu camps have experienced similar problems as Goma, but there have been no recent nutritional surveys.

Security within the Tanzania camps is reported to be fragile, to the extent that camp leaders even approached UN staff in late June to discuss repatriation issues. There is clearly a desire on the part of the Tanzanian population to send the refugees home and the government is supporting all international repatriation plans. Cash is urgently needed to improve the Tanzania railway line if food rations are to be more effectively distributed.

On a slightly more optimistic note, a crisis in Burundi, should one occur, will find the humanitarian community better prepared in terms of relief efforts than arguably ever before. Preparedness measures have been increased since the international community was caught unawares by the crisis of April 1994 in Rwanda. Donors, NGOs and UN agencies, such as Care, USAID, WFP, ECHO and DHA have strengthened their regional coordination, including databases of personnel and equipment, stockpiles, and logistics systems.

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