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Update No. 96/8 on ICRC activities related to the Zairian crisis

22-11-1996 Operational Update

Although several hundred thousand Rwandan refugees have returned to Rwanda during the past week, vast numbers of Zairian displaced, Zairians affected by the conflict, Rwandan refugees and Burundian refugees are still without assistance and protection, and there are only unconfirmed indications as to where they might be located.

 Ongoing ICRC activities  

 Tracing  

ICRC activities for returning Rwandan refugees currently focus on tracing, especially for unaccompanied children. Even before the recent population movements, more than 19,800 unaccompanied children had been identified in the refugee camps in eastern Zaire. In the wake of last week's events this number has no doubt been swelled by several thousand more. The ICRC has developed a plan of action to coordinate the protection and assistance for unaccompanied children provided by the various humanitarian organizations active in the field.

Under this plan of action, the tracing process is organized into three phases: identification of the children, regrouping, and transfer to special centres in their region of origin. As soon as a child has been identified the ICRC immediately starts to look for its parents, in the hope of reuniting the family as soon as possible. Since the recent exodus from Zaire to Rwanda started, the ICRC has registered over 2,800 unaccompanied children, reunited 500 families in transit camps, transferred some 1,000 children from Gisenyi and Ruhengeri to Kigali and assisted transit centres, run by humanitarian organizations, with blankets a nd food. The transfer of unaccompanied children continues. On Thursday alone, the ICRC transported some 250 children to various centres.

Since the Belgian Red Cross centre in Kigali is full, children are currently taken to Gitarama and Byumba. The ICRC made three trucks available for the transport of unaccompanied children from Nkamira, near Gisenyi, to their commune of origin.

The tracing plan of action also deals with the restoration of family links in general. To this end, the ICRC is distributing pre-printed Red Cross messages for newly displaced people in Rwanda, allowing them to inform relatives that they are safe and will be in touch once settled. Preparations for tracing activities are underway in Butare in case of a sudden influx of refugees from Bukavu.

Tracing activities in eastern Zaire are hampered by lack of access. Prior to the recent population movements of Rwandan refugees and Zairian displaced people, some 2,000 children were awaiting reunification with their families. This number is sure to have increased dramatically over the past week.

 Detention  

ICRC delegates are still gathering information on protection-related issues in and around Goma town.

 Health activities  

The sick and vulnerable picked up from among the stream of returnees are taken to hospitals in Nkamira and Mukamira. An ICRC medical delegate has been assessing the health situation in several communes. Dispensaries and health centres are receiving medical supplies but shortages of rehydration solution persist in all centres visited by the ICRC.

On Wednesday the ICRC provided medical supplies for a small dispensary set up by nuns in Mugunga camp, eastern Zaire, for victims of the conflict. An ICRC surgeon completed his preliminary survey of the medical situation in Goma. Given the potential for conflict in the Goma area, the ICRC will continue to support the existing three hospitals in Goma with staff, equipment and medicines. Although there is no emergency situation in the hospitals at present, there are many cases of diarrhoea, dehydration and exhaustion.

Zairian Red Cross volunteers are picking up the wounded, sick and dead and taking them to Goma hospital. The ICRC's attempt to reach Rutshuru hospital was unsuccessful.

 Water and sanitation  

To alleviate the desperate water situation in Mugunga camp, two 10,000-litre water bladders have been installed. Two generators and spare parts needed to restore the water supply in Goma have arrived in the town. To secure a provisional water supply at the hospitals in Goma, the ICRC has installed bladders.

Three ICRC water and sanitation trucks from Gisenyi and Ruhengeri continue to fill bladders along the road taken by the refugees. As of Thursday, four ICRC water-tankers filling bladders have been operating along the Ruhengeri-Kigali road. The ICRC has installed bladders at the tracing centres in Mesengue, Masaka and Kigali.

To prepare for a possible influx of refugees from the Bukavu area, water and sanitation equipment has been sent from Butare to Cyangugu. The ICRC has provided two water-tankers and water and sanitation materials, including a portable water purification pump, for Cyangugu, where it has also installed pumping facilities and water treatment plants. In addition, ICRC water and sanitation delegates are carrying out a survey in Kibungo in case refugees return from camps in Tanzania.

 Relief  

An ICRC tra nsit centre has been set up along the Ruhengeri-Kigali road, where refugees are centralized before being taken directly to their communes of origin. The International Federation and the Rwandan Red Cross are providing returnees in the centres with first-aid and biscuits. Three ICRC trucks are transporting medical and relief supplies and water and sanitation equipment to and from Ruhengeri and Gisenyi. However, the Rwandan authorities are not allowing the distribution of biscuits along the main refugee route, insisting that returnees should carry on moving. The ICRC made three of its trucks available for taking refugees to Kigali, provided that the vehicles could be used later to transport unaccompanied children.

In Goma, food is running very low and there is neither electricity nor water. An ICRC truck with protein biscuits destined for Goma was blocked at the border. ICRC staff are attempting to reach Sake and Kirotshe with biscuits and oral rehydration solution for malnourished children at the two orphanages.

In Kisangani, several hundred people were assisted. The Zairian Red Cross sent vehicles loaded with ICRC supplies in the direction of Lubutu, trying to assist people along the road.