Cablegate: Return of Drc Refugees From Tanzania to South

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E.O. 12958; NA


1. (U) OFDA Rep Victor Bushamuka visited Baraka and Fizi
from August 22 to 26 to assess the situation of returning
DRC refugees from Tanzania. Fizi political leaders
unilaterally decided in early August to send boats to
Tanzania to bring refugees back to South Kivu at a rate of
5,000 per week so that they could participate in the
upcoming elections. To humanitarians, this news was
alarming as the area has limited logistical capacity to
support a large influx of returnees. Fortunately, from
early August to September 3, only 250 refugees were
reported to have returned using the boats. The low turnout
was attributed to the fact that many refugee families were
unable to afford the transport cost from camps to the port
in Tanzania and others are still worried about security in
their areas of origin. The DRC and Tanzanian governments
and UNHCR have also decided to start assisting voluntary
repatriation to South Kivu on October 15 at the rate of
2,400 people per week. Humanitarians in the area believe
that conditions in Fizi are not yet ready for returns in
large numbers, particularly as significant work must be
done before October. They also question, however, whether
large numbers of refugees will respond to the new offer.


2. (U) From August 22 to 26, OFDA Rep Victor Bushamuka
visited Baraka and Fizi to assess the situation of
returning refugees from Tanzania. During the visit, the
OFDA Rep met with UNHCR officials, Action Against Hunger
(AAH) staff, representatives of other international
organizations including ACTED and ATLAS Logistics, and
local Red Cross officials who are currently working in the
area. OFDA Rep also met with recent returnees and local
populations in Baraka and Fizi centers in the territory of

3. (U) Fizi is the southernmost territory of South Kivu
situated about 250 km south of Bukavu on the shores of
Lake Tanganika. The population of Fizi is dominated by the
Bembe ethnic group, though there are also concentrations
of Tutsi Banyamulenge in the high plateau of the
territory. During the war periods, the majority of the
Bembe population fled to Tanzania, while the Banyamulenge
took refuge in Burundi and Rwanda. Following the August
13, 2004 massacre of 162 mainly Tutsi Banyamulenge
refugees in Gatumba, Burundi, MONUC and other humanitarian
organizations assisted the Banyamulenge refugees in
Burundi to return to their areas in Uvira and Fizi
territories. The estimated 152,000 refugees from Fizi and
Baraka believed to be mainly ethnically Bembe are still
living in camps in Tanzania, presumably waiting to be
assisted to return. Small and spontaneous returns of
refugees from Tanzania have continuously been observed in
Fizi territory since 2004.

--------------------------------------------- --------
Voter Registration Used to Stimulate Refugees' Return
--------------------------------------------- --------

4. (U) In preparation for the 2006 elections, the voter
registration process has started in many parts of the DRC.
Although officially scheduled to start August 22 in South
Kivu, voter registration had not yet begun when the OFDA
Rep visited Baraka and Fizi. Bembe political leaders fear
losing control of Fizi to Banyamulenge if refugees in
Tanzania do not come back in time to register. As a
result, Bembe leaders have recently increased pressure on
the DRC government and have increased appeals to
humanitarians for immediate repatriation assistance to
refugees from Tanzania. In addition, local officials in
Baraka and Fizi imposed a tax of $5 to farmers and $10 to
INGO staff per month to contribute to the effort of
facilitating the return of refugees from Tanzania.
According to the local population and INGO staff contacted
by the OFDA Rep, this fundraising campaign has not
succeeded as most people have been unable to comply.

5. (U) According to UNHCR staff in Baraka, a team of Bembe
leaders went to Tanzania in mid-July to try to persuade
refugees to come back. The strategy used by the team was
to create fear in refugees by highlighting possible
consequences if they fail to return for voter
registration. Refugees were told that they would lose
control of their territory to Banyamulenge if they do not
participate in the upcoming elections. Refugees were also
warned that failing to register would automatically lead
to their losing Congolese citizenship as they would not
receive the identity card that is given after voter
registration. (Note: Independent Electoral Commission
President Malu Malu subsequently went to the Fizi/Baraka
area, and to the camps in Tanzania, to correct these kinds
of reports and convey correct information.) Some refugees
told the Bembe leaders in Tanzania that they have been
contemplating their return since last year, but lack of
transportation has prevented them from doing so.

--------------------------------------------- ----
Private Initiatives to Facilitate Refugee Returns
--------------------------------------------- ----

6. (U) Mrs. Shanila Mwanza, a parliamentarian from Fizi
territory, rented four boats in early August to assist
refugees' return. The rented boats had a combined capacity
of transporting 5,000 people per week. The boats left the
DRC for Kigoma in the second week of August and the first
group of returnees was expected within the following week.
To humanitarians, the possibility of sudden mass returns
of refugees to Baraka and Fizi was alarming as the area
had limited logistical capacity to absorb large numbers of
returnees. Fortunately, by September 3 only 250 refugees
had been reported to have returned to Fizi territory using
the provided boats. It is reported that three boats remain
in Kigoma waiting for volunteer returnees.

7. (U) Recent returnees contacted by the OFDA Rep said
that the low turnout of returnees was due to the fact that
most refugee families could not afford the transportation
cost from the camps to the port. Kigoma port is about 160
km from Nyarugusu camp and 80 to 90 Km from Lugufu 1 and 2
camps, respectively. The average transport cost from camps
to Kigoma port is about $10 per person, which is out of
reach for many refugee families. Other returnees pointed
out that many refugees in Tanzania are still worried about
security in their areas of origin. Reports of field crops
being harvested or looted by soldiers that circulate in
refugee camps have also played a major role in families
deciding not to return. In addition, refugees who have
learned that their houses or entire villages have been
destroyed are less eager to return.

--------------------------------------------- ------
UNHCR Assisted Repatriation Set to Start October 15
--------------------------------------------- ------

8. (U) The first of the 152,000 Congolese refugees in the
three camps in Tanzania are scheduled to be assisted to
voluntarily head back to South Kivu beginning October 15.
The decision to repatriate refugees was taken at a
tripartite commission meeting between the DRC and
Tanzanian governments and UNHCR in Kinshasa on September
8. The Congolese delegation at the meeting assured the
group that all destinations in South Kivu will have
adequate security for repatriation by September 30. The
Tanzanian delegation also pledged to provide all necessary
support to the return process. Both governments and UNHCR
appealed to donors for funds to support the repatriation
activity. The meeting recommended having trial movements
before the actual start of repatriation to evaluate the
logistical capacities and assistance needs. Although the
tripartite meeting did not specify the planned
repatriation rate per week, the head of the UNHCR office
in Baraka has asked the humanitarians in the area to
prepare for a repatriation rate of 2,400 people per week.

9. (U) Humanitarian organizations in the area have been
expecting and preparing for mass returns of DRC refugees
from Tanzania since last year. Most of the humanitarian
actors admitted being tired of repeatedly being asked to
prepare for mass returns that never happen. They also said
that the process of waiting has greatly affected their
program planning. Despite these complaints, the
humanitarian community in Fizi territory has set up a
coordinated plan in case of mass returns this year to
avoid duplication of efforts. They have all agreed on the
distribution of tasks among them. The INGO AAH was given
the responsibility of screening returnees at the entry
point to assess their nutritional status. Malnourished
returnees requiring medical attention would be referred to
a therapeutic or supplementary nutrition center. Those
arriving sick and requiring medical attention would be
referred to the INGOs MSF-Holland or AMI for treatment.
The local Red Cross is to manage the transit centers with
UNHCR and World Food Program assistance. The
transportation of returnees to their drop-off areas would
be provided by UNHCR and OCHA.

Are Fizi and Baraka Ready for Mass Returns?

10. (U) When comparing the area now to the period in May
2004 when the OFDA Rep last visited, it is clear that
significant progress has been made in terms of security
and infrastructure. The Uvira-Baraka-Fizi road that was
barely usable before has been rehabilitated. Two transit
centers have been established in Fizi and one in Uvira
territories. There are at least ten international
humanitarian organizations established in Fizi territory
compared to only three a year ago. The security situation
has also improved in recent months in Baraka and Fizi. For
instance, there are no more roadblocks along the Uvira-
Fizi road. General Dunia, an ex-Mai-Mai leader who
controls Fizi and Baraka, has instituted drastic
disciplinary measures to reestablish security throughout
his territory. Soldiers found guilty of raping, killing,
or looting civilian properties are publicly executed. Many
residents of Baraka credit the General for the prevailing
security in the area.

11. (U) Despite the noticeable progress in the preparation
for the return of refugees, most humanitarian actors
contacted by OFDA Rep believe that Fizi territory is not
yet ready for mass returns. The port of Baraka, which is
logistically critical for repatriation, is still being
rehabilitated. Although transit centers have been
established in Baraka and Mushimbakye, they have a
combined maximum capacity of 200 people, which appears
insufficient given the 2,400 people expected per week.
Fizi center, which is one of the planned drop-off areas,
has no facility to assist returnees who are not from Fizi.
Health facilities in Fizi are limited and MSF-Holland
(Doctors without Borders), that was set to provide
assistance to the general hospital of Fizi center, backed
out of the negotiations in July.

12. (U) Local population assistance is always critical to
the reintegration of returnees. However, the capacity of
the local population in Baraka and Fizi to assist
newcomers has been greatly reduced by the drought that
occurred during the last agricultural season. Poor
harvests throughout the territory led to significant price
increases of agricultural products in local markets. The
population of Fizi and Baraka who received OFDA-funded
assistance last season remain vulnerable and unable to
assist returnees. In addition to new returnees, program
beneficiaries from last year would probably continue to
qualify for food security assistance.


13. (U) The progressive improvement of security in South
Kivu, and Fizi territory in particular, has been allowing
small but continuous returns of refugees from Tanzania
since 2004. However, despite the increased campaign for
mass return of refugees and the assisted transportation
provided by Bembe political leaders, the returning rate of
refugees from Tanzania to Fizi territory has remained
constant. This raises the question of whether refugees
will respond to the newly planned assisted repatriation by
UNHCR in October.

14. (U) Currently, the territory of Fizi has limited
infrastructure to absorb large returnees and the local
capacity to assist newcomers has greatly been reduced by
drought. As a result, mass returns would certainly further
increase strain on people's meager resources. Therefore,
additional humanitarian assistance appears critical in
case of a large influx of returnees in Fizi territory to
avoid disastrous situations. OFDA Reps will continue to
monitor developments to be able to activate additional
mechanisms of assistance should such be warranted.

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