Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Fear Keeps Rwandans From Home

NGARA, Tanzania -- UN officials arranged Cassiano Nyirimansi's "look and see" trip back to his Rwandan village. They hoped he would tell other refugees it was safe to go home. No such luck.


A meeting with a hostile Rwandan army lieutenant convinced Nyirimansi the country's new rulers wanted to coax refugees home and kill them.


He came back spreading fear -- perhaps the most contagious disease in the camps just outside Rwanda's borders.


Officials have tried about everything to get the 1.8 million Rwandan refugees out of the volatile camps: "look and see" trips, videos of refugees who returned safely, tapes of interviews with them.


"The results are very, very small," said Joel Boutroue, a senior official of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.


Rwanda's Hutu refugees are staying put. They still fear retaliation for the massacres of more than 500,000 people, mostly minority Tutsis, during the Rwandan genocide of 1994.


Nyirimansi isn't one of the militant Hutu leaders who have been trying to terrorize refugees into staying out of Rwanda. He wanted to go home. The UNHCR took him back to Rwanda to see whether it was safe to take his wife and three children back to their farm.


His hope was dashed by the unidentified lieutenant who interrupted a meeting with a village mayor and accused visiting refugees of spying and planning an invasion. The officer warned that the army would be waiting for their return.


Some of those who traveled with him found their homes occupied. They were frightened by rumors that refugees who went home had been arrested or had disappeared. UNHCR officials said those incidents could keep thousands from going home. Just a few bad reports completely undermine refugee confidence.


"The majority of refugees think the Tutsis want to kill them. With such a state of mind, to go anywhere seems to be quite difficult," said Karl Steinacker, program officer for the Ngara region.


The Tutsi-dominated government in Kigali repeatedly has said those innocent of genocide are safe and welcome to return. At a meeting last month in Cairo, Rwanda agreed to clarify its arrest procedures, give back the property of returning refugees, integrate Hutus into the army and try to create conditions to make refugees feel safe.


So far, the government hasn't done that. Officials say they need more time.