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Update No. 96/1 on ICRC activities in Rwanda

03-06-1996 Operational Update

 Tension on the Zaire/Rwanda border  

Over the past few weeks some 10,000 people have fled the fighting in the Masisi area of the North Kivu region of Zaire and taken refuge in Rwanda. These people are of Banyarwanda origin and have lived in the north-east of Zaire for several generations. A refugee site near Gisenyi, just 80 metres from the border and in an area subject to frequent armed incursions, has now been assigned to them by the Rwandan government. The international community has condemned this choice of site for reasons of safety, and the ICRC has refused to be involved in supporting the running of this camp. The institution considers that the present location is a threat to the safety of the Banyarwanda population and has officially requested the authorities to move the people to a secure place, away from the border.

 Growing security problems  

The delegation has witnessed a significant increase in security incidents, particularly in western regions: anti-tank mines are regularly detonated, electricity supplies are sabotaged and general acts of violence are directed against the authorities. This has had an obvious knock-on effect for humanitarian organizations and has, in particular, affected the ICRC's mobility in various provinces, which has led to the temporary suspension of the institution's activities in certain areas. Attacks on places of detention have caused the deaths of dozens of detainees and the subsequent escape of many others.

 On-going work in places of detention  

Despite the long-awaited transfer of around 3,000 detainees from Kigali prison to Gikondo on 22 and 23 March, and subsequent transfers of prisoners on a smaller scale, the ICRC is still registering new detainees at a rate of around 800 PER WEEK. There is grave concern that if arrests continue at this rate , ANY PROGRESS made to reduce the levels of overpopulation WILL be nullified . There are still extremely serious overcrowding problems in all places of detention, and particularly in the communal lock-ups: some 52,000 inmates are being held in 13 prisons and a further 22,000 are being held in 250 transitional detention centres.

At the end of May the number of detainees in Rwanda totalled some 74,000. The ICRC is extremely troubled by the mounting numbers of detainees, the consequent overpopulation crisis in places of detention and the absence of any long-term solutions.

The Rwandan authorities have made greater efforts to meet the needs of prisoners as regards food and medical care. For the past four months the government has provided more than half of the food needed for the 13 prisons. However, the ICRC is still continuing its food and non-food assistance in order to fulfil the remaining basic requirements. Over the January to April period the ICRC distributed the following quantities of goods to the Rwandan prisons: 1,555 tonnes of food (including cereals, pulses, oil and salt), 470 tonnes of biscuits, 12,000 blankets, 1,000 jerrycans, 64 tonnes of soap, plus plates, cups, cutlery and firewood as needed. ICRC medical staff continue to monitor mortality rates in places of detention and provide medical assistance and expertise for the main health problems, including oedemas, dysentery, tuberculosis and AIDS.

 Unaccompanied minors  

The work of the Central Tracing Agency in the Great Lakes region is a massive operation involving not only the ICRC but other humanitarian organizations. With a central database in Nairobi, the agency has now registered over 90,000 children and, in response to the magnitude of the task, the team of expatriate and local staff have increased their workload with approximately 2,000 tracing cases being resolved in the last month. The ICRC also attends village meetings with lists of children and uses radio tracing messages to ensure a wider contact. Thus far some 17,500 children have been reunited with their families, and more than 3,500 of these mainly cross-border family reunifications were carried out by the ICRC itself. Despite these efforts, however, over 33,000 tracing requests made by parents seeking help to find their lost children remain unresolved and some 50,000 children have had no contact with their families as yet.

One of the ICRC's main concerns is to speed up these family reunifications. On an inter-camp basis they work extremely well, but certain problems arise when cross-border reunifications take place. In view of current efforts to repatriate refugees, this work needs to be expedited to avoid once again losing contact with these children and having to start the process all over again. The situation is further complicated by security problems, which make it difficult to have access to certain areas and to carry out reunifications.

The Red Cross message (RCM) service is still a vital part of this process and is often the only form of contact with more remote areas of the country. The RCM service in Rwanda is the largest ever set up in Africa: the ICRC has so far distributed over 1,700,000 messages and collected more than 2,000,000.

There are currently seven expatriates and 68 local staff working for the ICRC in Nairobi to run the database, and 39 expatriates and 945 local staff in total working in t he field for the Great Lakes tracing programme. The training of local staff to continue this work is of the utmost importance.

 Delegated projects  

The ICRC is working successfully with the National Red Cross Societies of Australia, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States on six projects to rehabilitate the water supply systems of 35 communes across the country. Work is carried out within the framework of an agreement with the Rwandan Ministry for Public Works and Energy (MINITRAPE) to reroute pipelines, repair broken pipes and reservoirs, and train local water caretakers or fontainiers who will continue to maintain these systems. As well as receiving technical support, these projects include an element of community education, through songs and a touring theatre play, among other things, to inform people why they should work to attain clean water and hygiene. Two other projects are delegated to the National Societies of France and Germany to rehabilitate the 17 health centres in Kigali Rural and Gitarama, and a further two projects to the Swiss Red Cross, to support on one hand the surgical, maternity and radiology wards within the Kibuye hospital and, on the other, the orthopaedic workshop in Gatagara. From May onwards the German Red Cross will also provide support to certain other facilities within the Kibuye hospital.