Irish aid workers help 400,000 refugees as they are escorted home by troops


AID workers from GOAL Ireland at a refugee camp near the Rwandan border in Tanzania were yesterday helping over 400,000 refugees being escorted home by Tanzanian soldiers.

Ms Maeve Kiely of GOAL said the Hutu refugees did not appear to be coerced by the Tanzanian military. Other reports yesterday had referred to the use of tear-gas to force some of the reluctant refugees to start walking back to Rwanda.

"They are being escorted to the border," Ms Kiely said from the GOAL base about 25 km from the Kitale Hill refugee camp.

The GOAL base has seven volunteer workers, all Irish. Ms Kiely said they would be continuing their work in the next week - "Christmas Day is just the same in a refugee camp - and were expecting an influx of some of 65,000 Burundian refugees who were being encouraged to return to their country.

AFP adds: Almost 200,000 Hutu refugees had returned to Rwanda in four days by yesterday afternoon, relief workers said, leaving about 300,000 still in Tanzania hiding out, making their way to the frontier or preparing to do so.

The Tanzanian authorities have said they want all the Rwandan refugees out of the country by the end of December and have given foreign aid workers instructions only to give food to some 200,000 Burundian refugees from the civil war in that country, who have been allowed to stay.

Burundian refugees still in Musuhura are likely to be regrouped with others in the Lukole and Kitali camps in the Ngara region, UN High Commissioner for Refugees officials said.

On the road past the camps, a 30 km line of people could be seen heading for the Rusumo bridge at the frontier with Rwanda. Some had their feet, swollen by trekking for dozens of kilometres, wrapped in rags or plastic bags.

Last week, scores of thousands of refugees panicked and fled deeper into Tanzania to avoid being forced home to Tutsi-dominated Rwanda.

Heavy rain put a halt to the stream of refugees crossing into Rwanda after some 61,200 people did so, according to the UNHCR spokesman in the capital Kigali, Mr Paul Stromberg.

Tanzania has for two years hosted more than half a million Hutus who fled Rwanda in 1994. Among them were armed Hutu extremists accused of the genocide of more than 500,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus before a Tutsi front won a civil war in July that year.