Zaire: USCR Statement, 11/27/96

Zaire: USCR Statement, 11/27/96

Zaire: USCR Statement
Date Distributed (ymd): 961127

This posting contains two press releases from the United States Committee for Refugees, released Nov. 21 and Nov. 26, respectively. For further information contact Roger P. Winter or Jeff Drumtra, at the U.S. Committee for Refugees, 1717 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Suite 701, Washington, DC 20036; Tel: (202) 347-3507; Fax: (202) 347-3418; E-mail: khope@irsa-



November 21, 1996

Continued calls for the deployment of U.S. and other international troops in eastern Zaire have inadvertently hindered rather than helped efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to hundreds of thousands of uprooted persons in the area, according to an assessment on the ground by the U.S. Committee for Refugees (USCR).

The most rapid and effective way to deliver humanitarian assistance to Rwandan refugees, Burundian refugees, and internally displaced Zairians in eastern Zaire is to negotiate with Zairian rebel leaders to allow the delivery of cross-border relief supplies from neighboring Rwanda, USCR has concluded. Rwanda should serve as a base for humanitarian operations that can stabilize both sides of the Rwanda-Zaire border. The U.S., Canada, and other nations should undertake a military intervention in eastern Zaire only if the force is willing to confront and disarm soldiers and militia members controlled by Rwandan extremists. A military intervention without that mandate risks being counterproductive.

The extended debate about an international military deployment to save lives in eastern Zaire is now inadvertently hindering the saving of lives, said Roger Winter, director of USCR. Zairian rebels who control eastern Zaire are concerned that an international military force will have the effect of strengthening their adversaries, and this has slowed their cooperation with international relief workers. Rebels are more likely to open humanitarian relief corridors more quickly if the rebels are assured that they are not about to be invaded by international troops. Basing relief operations in Rwanda would probably assuage the rebels' security fears.

Winter returned yesterday from an 11-day site visit to eastern Zaire and Rwanda. During that period, an estimated 600,000 Rwandan refugees repatriated from Zaire. Winter met repeatedly with Zairian Tutsi rebel leader Laurent Kabila to learn about the military and political goals of the rebel movement.

The United States and other nations continue to debate whether to send troops to eastern Zaire. U.S. officials have indicated that any troop deployment would operate under tight restrictions and would not attempt to disarm combatants or separate Rwandan refugees from their armed extremist leaders.

We should only send troops to eastern Zaire if their purpose is to disarm Rwandan Hutu killers who participated in the 1994 genocide, Winter said. As long as the international force pledges not to confront the killers, the force would not be useful and could be counterproductive.

U.S. officials have indicated that a small American military contingent will help provide humanitarian assistance inside Rwanda to 600,000 former refugees who have returned home in the past week. Some $140 million of U.S. aid will flow into Rwanda in coming months for short term relief and long-term development. The U.S. government policy is the correct one, Winter said. As Rwanda is trying to get back on its feet, we would threaten Rwanda's security now if we fail to invest generously to meet the needs of the 600,000 persons who have returned home. Rwanda's returnees need tools and shelter materials, temporary food aid, ongoing medical care, schools, and the presence of more UN human rights observers in isolated rural areas.

Uncertainty persists about the number, locations, and condition of Rwandan refugees in Zaire in the aftermath of violence in the past month. Several hundred thousand Zairians have also been affected by the violence. Those concerns can be resolved most rapidly by negotiating humanitarian access to eastern Zaire with rebel leaders rather than by raising tensions on the ground by threatening a military deployment. Zairian rebel leader Kabila sees it in his own interest to have the Rwandan refugees go home, Winter said after extensive discussions with Kabila. There is reason to believe that, under the right circumstances, the rebels would work with relief officials to make that happen.



November 26, 1996

How many refugees remain in eastern Zaire? The confusion over the number of Rwandan refugees still in eastern Zaire has been one of several factors undermining assistance plans.

Journalists and the American public have expressed incredulity at the wide gap in estimates supplied by sources in the field. Some observers have alleged that the discrepancy in population estimates is proof of ulterior motives by relief agencies and international diplomats, who are assumed to have a vested interest in reporting refugee numbers that are artificially high or unrealistically low. This advisory attempts to clarify, step by step, the reasons why a large discrepancy has developed in estimates of the size of the refugee population in Zaire.

The U.S. Committee for Refugees (USCR) has provided statistical information and analysis on refugee crises worldwide since 1958 and is familiar with the difficulty inherent in measuring accurately the size of massive refugee populations. USCR has conducted nine site visits to eastern Zaire and Rwanda since 1994, including an assessment trip completed last week.

The following table reviews the range of estimates for five populations: 1) Rwandan refugees in Zaire two months ago; 2) Burundian refugees in Zaire two months ago; 3) Rwandan refugees who have repatriated from Zaire to Rwanda during the past two weeks; 4) Burundian refugees who have fled from Zaire to Burundi and to Tanzania during the past two weeks; 5) Zairians displaced internally by the recent violence. Uncertainty about the size of each of these five groups has snowballed into an unusually large discrepancy in aggregate population estimates. The table illustrates how various sources have derived minimum and maximum estimates of the refugee population remaining in eastern Zaire.

Populations Being Estimated****Assumption 1****Assumption 2

(a)Rwandan refugees in Zaire
in Sept. 96********************900,000*********1,100,000

(b) Rwandan refugees
repatriated in Nov. 96*********600,000***********500,000

(c) Rwandan refugees currently
remaining in Zaire [a minus ]**300,000***********600,000

(d) Burundian refugees in
Zaire in Sept. 96**************140,000***********140,000

(e) Burundian refugees fled
Zaire Oct.-Nov. 96**************80,000************40,000

(f) Burundian refugees currently
remaining in Zaire [d minus e]**60,000***********100,000

(g) Rwandan & Burundian refugees
currently in Zaire [c plus f]**360,000***********700,000

(h) Zairians internally

(i) uprooted Rwandans, Burundians, &
Zairians in E.Zaire[g plus h]**510,000***********950,000

As the preceding table indicates, various sources estimate that the number of Rwandan refugees remaining in Zaire (line c) is 300,000 to 600,000, a huge range. This highlights only part of the discrepancy, however. Some observers estimate that 100,000 to 200,000 of those Rwandans might be directly or indirectly implicated in the 1994 genocide, calling into question their refugee status.

Counting Problems

Estimates of the size of large refugee populations worldwide often encounter a 10 percent margin of error, due to the chaos of refugee situations, questions of identity, inadvertent double counting, and attempts by humanitarian workers to ensure stocks of adequate relief supplies. In some camps, even a smoothly conducted census can become quickly outdated as refugee families shift locations. Attempts to count massive, uncooperative refugee populations, such as the Rwandan refugees in Zaire during the past two years, are susceptible to even greater error.

A census of the Goma-area refugee camps in February 1995 by UNHCR and other relief groups was hampered by significant fraud orchestrated by Rwandan refugee leaders, relief workers reported at the time. Representatives of some relief agencies withdrew from the census exercise because of the fraud. As a result, the final 1995 census statistics in Zaire were imprecise, although they were useful for planning humanitarian programs and budgets. An attempt by UNHCR to refine its refugee estimates in late 1995 using a combination of aerial photography and on-the-ground checks indicated that official population estimates remained high.

In view of these indicators, USCR's annual World Refugee Survey, published in April 1996, estimated that the actual number of Rwandan refugees in eastern Zaire at the beginning of 1996 was approximately 900,000, in contrast to the official UNHCR estimate of 1.1 million.

The Goma-area refugee population again frustrated UNHCR's efforts to conduct a reliable census in September 1996. Groups of young men in the camps reportedly destroyed several census registration booths and threw rocks at vehicles of relief agencies, according to a report received at the time by USCR. The census was cancelled, depriving UNHCR and the international community of a consensus on the baseline for the number of Rwandan refugees who were in eastern Zaire prior to the outbreak of recent violence. As the preceding table indicates, uncertainties over the numbers of Burundian refugees still in Zaire, as well as confusion about the numbers of internally displaced Zairians, have created even larger discrepancies.

Beyond the Numbers

The debate over refugee numbers has, unfortunately, been allowed to obscure wide agreement among relief workers and analysts that a significant number of people are uprooted or war-affected in eastern Zaire and need humanitarian assistance. Relief workers have managed to travel up to 40 miles beyond Goma and Bukavu in recent days. Additional access to other areas of eastern Zaire is necessary to conduct rapid humanitarian assessments and address health and nutritional needs.

It has become increasingly clear that a multinational military force will not deploy in eastern Zaire in the near future. Nor should it. Zairian rebels and the Rwandan government have stated that they oppose use of a multinational force. U.S. officials have indicated they will not deploy troops without local approval on the ground. A multinational force is not mandated to disarm extremists or rescue refugees held hostage. USCR continues to recommend that the most rapid and most practical way to assist uprooted persons in Zaire including Rwandans, Burundians, and Zairians is to assuage Zairian rebels' military concerns by officially shelving discussion of a multinational military deployment and, instead, to negotiate improved access by humanitarian workers into eastern Zaire using Rwanda as a staging base for humanitarian supplies.


From: Message-Id: <> Date: Wed, 27 Nov 1996 22:13:36 -0500 Subject: Zaire: USCR Statement

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar

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