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Rwanda : ICRC Newsletter No. 2

26-01-1996

As part of the essential task of reassuring members of dispersed families and re-establishing communication with them, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has to date registered 88,000 unaccompanied Rwandan children in its database.

But almost two years after the genocide and despite major tracing efforts throughout the Great Lakes region, nearly 60,000 of them have not been reunited with their families. These children do not have any news from their parents.

 The traditional tasks entrusted to the ICRC Central Tracing Agency under the Geneva Conventions are:  

 - obtain, centralize and communicate all information on civilian and military victims in enemy hands;  

 - ensure the transmission of correspondence between prisoners and their families, as well as the exchange of Red Cross messages between members of families separated by conflict;  

 - trace persons reported missing or whose relatives are without news;  

 - issue certificates of captivitiy, sickness or death;  

 - transmit legal documents, such as powers of attorney and wills;  

 - issue travel documents.  

In addit ion, the central database has information on more than 35,000 parents searching for their children that do not match up with information on registered children.

Most of Rwanda's lost children live in orphanages or with foster families in Zaire, Rwanda, Tanzania, Burundi and Uganda. A few have found shelter in European countries such as Italy, Belgium and France.

" 22 months of separation is an extremely long time for small children, " comments ICRC tracing coordinator Elizabeth Twinch on the institution's race against time.

She continues: " And the longer they have to stay in orphanages, foster families or refugee camps, the more difficult it will be for them to readjust to their own families. "

The joint effort made by the ICRC and other organizations such as UNICEF and Save the Children Fund (UK) in identifying lost children and helping them find their parents constitutes the world's biggest tracing programme since the 2nd World War after the former Yugoslavia.

Notwithstanding the magnitude of the problem, and even though more lost minors are still being found every week, Elizabeth Twinch says it's too early to give up hope of finding the parents alive.

- For the time being we work on the assumption that no news is good news. Of course, a point will be reached when we will have to decide that the parents just can't be found. Then, we will increasingly start reuniting children with other close relatives.

According to Elizabeth Twinch, the biggest task for the time being is to give back hope to the parents, many of whom are convinced that their children are dead.

 Since August 1994, ICRC has:  

 - centralized data concerning 88,000 unacompanied children and reunited 2,700 of them with close family members.  

 - distributed more than 1,3 million Red Cross Family Messages in the Great Lakes region .

As an enhanced way of reaching out to families, the ICRC, SCF-UK and seven other organisations have five months ago begun bringing lists with the names of lost children to village meetings in order to find parents.

Another efficient search method in a predominantly rural country with poor infrastructure is the radio. That's why names of lost children and their parents will soon be read out aloud on Radio Rwanda. ICRC has previously had positive experiences of radiotracing in Somalia and in the Former Yugoslavia.

With thousands of unaccompanied children living in foster families still not registered, and with tens of thousands of children and parents still to be traced, tracing programs and the exchange of RCMs will continue for years to come.

    

 News-in-brief:  

 WATER AND SANITATION. As part of its efforts to support the Rwandan Ministry for Public Works and Energy (MINITRAPE), the ICRC this week launched a rural water supply project in three communes of Kibungo Prefecture.

The project, the second in Rwanda to be undertaken by the Australian Red Cross, will complete the Ruhundo water system, restart local water management committees as well as support hygiene education in schools and through women's cooperatives.

By August, 60,000 Rwandans are expected to benefit from improved systems that they themselves can manage. In addition, many refugees are expected to return to Kibungo Prefecture which is already critically short of water.

 DETENTION: As part of its protection activities, the ICRC has to date registered 66,103 detainees in 266 places of detention. At the end of November, ICRC was visiting 57,218 detainees in 253 places of detentino whereas the figures for end-December were 63,417 inmates in 258 places of detention.

 MEDICAL: According to a new agreement with the Ministry of Health, the ICRC will support the surgical, obstetrical and x-ray departments of the 58-bed Kibuye hospital. The ICRC also undertook to train Rwandese counterparts, particularly in surgical skills.

Kibuye hospital is the reference hospital for approximately half a million people. It lacks both material and professional staff.

The project is intended for an initial one year and is carried out by one expatriate surgeon, two nurses and one physiotherapist seconded to the ICRC by the Swiss Red Cross.