UN agency concerned at reports of Rwanda pressing Congolese refugees to join

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today said it was “gravely concerned” about allegations from Congolese refugees in Rwanda that local authorities and officials of a rebel group have been pressuring healthy males to return to the north to join rebel security forces. The Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD-Goma) is “‘asking all able-bodied men to repatriate and secure the area,’” UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski said, quoting one 20-year-old male who angrily complained to the agency on Wednesday. In another sign of pressure on the Congolese to leave Rwanda, Mr. Janowski said there have also been worrying reports from a non-governmental organization (NGO) in Kiziba camp in Kibuye Province and Gihembe in Byumba Province that local authorities have declined to authorize the re-opening of schools. Schools were scheduled to re-open in early September but the NGO has now been told to run schools outside the refugee camps. “The re-opening of schools inside the camp would require ‘authorization from higher authorities’ the NGO has been told,” Mr. Janowski said. Meanwhile, information posters put up by UNHCR in the two camps telling refugees that the return operation being managed by the Government of Rwanda should be voluntary have been torn down. Since 31 August, the Government of Rwanda and RCD-Goma have carried out an operation that has seen the return of more than 8,500 Congolese refugees of Tutsi origin from two camps in Rwanda, according to Mr. Janowski, who noted that many of the returnees have said they went back under duress. “UNHCR is not involved in the operation and has repeatedly asked that any involuntary returns be halted,” he stressed.

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