UN agency encourages Rwandan refugees to return after goandsee visits

Exploratory visits to their homeland have calmed the fears of potential Rwandan returnees who have been taking refuge since the 1994 genocide in other African countries, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said today. In the years following the genocide, some 3.2 million Rwandan refugees have gone home, and UNHCR is actively promoting the repatriation of 48,000 others living in 14 African countries. Josephine, for example, was 19 when she left her village in the southern province of Butare in May 1994, shortly after the start of the genocide in which some 800,000 people were killed in just 100 days.She settled in the Luwani Refugee Camp in Malawi, which is still home to some 3,400 Rwandan refugees. After a visit to her village earlier this month with four other Rwandan refugees, she came back to Malawi to help her fellow refugees decide whether or not to go back to Rwanda for good.According to UNHCR, some refugees remain unconvinced that Rwanda is now a safe country. In addition, some say the establishment of traditional local courts, known as gacaca – which are meant to identify and try lower-level perpetrators of the 1994 genocide – has caused them to hesitate about coming home. During her time in her village, Josephine made a point of talking to the mayor of Gikonko district, as well as the gacaca coordinator in the area, so she could return to Malawi with a better understanding of these issues.“I do not have a bad impression of the functioning of the gacacas, and this is what I am going to say to other refugees back in Malawi,” she told UNHCR. “Rwanda now seems a peaceful country, and I see no reason for not coming back home.”

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