30th July 1994
This mission was to start with an enquiry from UNHCR, Geneva – Would the International Rescue Corps be able to field a team to help with the current refugee situation in Rwanda?
The answer was “Yes”.
31st July 1994
At their request, a list of team members’ names, complete with a small CV on each, was supplied to UNHCR Geneva. We were also advised that the original request for the team to be based and work within the Kigali area had been changed – we would now be based in Bukavu; our main role would be to ensure that the small, provincial airport within the area could be made capable of handling a major increase in traffic.
1st – 3rd August 1994
All arrangements were put into place for the packaging of the equipment from stores, and for the purchase and packaging of additional tools, etc.
4th August 1994
The flight from Heathrow to Frankfurt went without problem. A representative from UNHCR was at the airport to help move the team to Rheinmain air base. On arrival at the US base our first problems are encountered. Little or no information is available as to what should happen with the kit. We arranged for it to be placed on a pallet and kept in the pallet yard for onward transport to the flight. We are then told that the flight which we had been booked onto by UNHCR was, in fact, full and that the section which booked seats for non-US personnel had no information on our team requirement. Attempts made to try and contact the UNHCR staff member who had met the team at the airport were unsuccessful.
5th August 1994
At 04:00, a call is placed to the flight controller and the team is informed that the new departure time will be 14:00. The team report to the base at 10:30 only to find that all the paperwork has been lost. A second set is supplied and we are asked to return in 2 hours. At 13:00 we are informed that the 14:00 time has been put back to 17:10, but that the team and all the kit are booked in. It is not possible to call outside the base but we are able to use a military line to call UNHCR at Entebbe and inform them of our new arrival time. We ensure the pallet of kit has been delivered to the correct location and go to the passenger terminal and, at 14:00, we report to the passenger booking-in point.
The team members repacked all items and the pallet was placed in the sterile area prior to going onto the aircraft. It was noted that the new weight was almost 300lbs below the original weight logged on arrival, initially assumed to be a paperwork error – it was later found to be due to the loss of some fuel cans and rations.
The team is finally transported to Entebbe on a C141
6th August 1994
Contact is established with UNHCR in Geneva and we are informed that the team will be required to travel to Bukavu, establish a communications link at the airport, set up a handling system for the incoming cargo and help with all other items as and when possible. We arrange with the New Zealand Air Force to transport the kit and the team in on the first flight tomorrow. Time is taken to examine some of the equipment which is being sent in to help.
On arrival at Bukavu, the team arrange for the equipment to be placed in the hanger for safe keeping while they establish themselves and help unload a mobile hospital for a Norwegian Hospital Charity. It is confirmed by the French Military that they will be pulling out soon and that the safe area within Rwanda will probably disappear.
This may mean that in the next few days the refugee population within this area may rise by up to 500,000. A member of staff from the local UNHCR office arrives and explains that they had no prior information on our arrival, team set up, capabilities and job description. He asks that we stay for 2 to 3 days during which time a better idea of the developing refugee situation will be available and, also, we can try to help with some general duties within the area. We may then be sent to Kigali. We start by delivering 5 new vehicles to the UNHCR office in Bukavu some 35km distant.
8th August 1994
We are asked to repair the drains at the local office and also to ensure that the new vehicles which we delivered are fitted with the accessories supplied. All are fitted with mirrors, vehicle radios, fire extinguishers, rear ladders and roof racks, security systems are made operative and the vehicles given a full pre-delivery check. By midday we have all the vehicles completed are allocated one for the team’s use. The team returns to the airport where they are able to set up and test the communications system. A full survey of the airport is carried out and a simple requirements plan is formulated. On return to Bukavu we find that the requirements from Geneva will mean that the team will have to split and work as small units, possibly from different locations.
9th August 1994
The requirements needed to upgrade the capacity of the airport and the general life of the runway form the main areas of discussion. It is agreed by all that some form of mechanical handling (preferably an all-terrain forklift truck), properly organised apron parking, truck loading facilities, communications and runway sweeping are all part of this requirement. The expected life of the runway is estimated at ten days to approximately one month. This gives a general guide as to the possible length and capacity of the airlift, prior to relying on a land or water based operation.
A base camp is set up at the airport and communications are established – Inmarsat A telephone, fax and telex. These are to be available to all that are involved in this emergency situation. An HF radio monitoring system would also be set up. It is hoped to use this system in the first instance to monitor the incoming aircraft, thus enabling some general pre planning as to apron requirements. It may also be possible to use HF radio as a means of long distance communications between agencies, provided suitable frequencies are available.
10th August 1994
The first flight arrived at 0700 and, to everyone’s disbelief; it was a BAC1-11 jet – chartered to carry in 8 tons of beans. The crew informed us that they intend to bring in two, possibly three, loads each day and, starting tomorrow, would be arriving at first light.
The entire load is removed by hand. We are informed that it may not be possible to have a forklift truck supplied but are given permission to look into the building of loading docks and ramps. Without some form of mechanical handling this is a difficult exercise as the system depends on being able to lift the goods in bulk from the aircraft, move them to a suitable location and then load them for onward distribution. Without the first link in the chain the system is unworkable.
We have been requested to have a look at the lighting in the warehouse and, if possible, repair it. This would enable unloading to continue after dark. We have also been requested to install VHF and Codan radios into a number of UNHCR vehicles.
Without any improvement to the airport handling, 5 or 6 planes could be handled per day. With only minor improvements, this could be raised around 10 or 12 planes per day. The maximum without the use of proper air traffic control would probably be between 20 and 30. This would depend on the flight crews rather than the ground crews and general safety must be the overall concern. It was also pointed out that little or no safety and rescue equipment was on site, other than that which we (IRC) had brought in.
11th August 1994
The morning had 5 flights. These were spaced out and with the help of a French military lorry and small forklift; we were able to keep the apron clear.
As 3 team members travelled into Bukavu they noticed the start of a new camp near to the airfield, and also a marked increase in the number of refugees who are walking at the side of the road.
On arrival at UNHCR office it is confirmed that two Tutsis had been killed during the previous night during an incident in town.
IRC were advised that a number of Land Cruisers are in Goma and it is hoped that IRC members will be able to fly there and drive the vehicles back.
On the journey back to the airport we stopped and helped at a road traffic accident. This will form a regular part of our work. We are advised that this is not always advisable but find that, as a rescue team, we cannot and will not refuse to help at such incidents.
13th August 1994
As we pass the new camp near to the airfield we find that, in the time between travelling to Bukavu and returning, the camp has grown from nothing to 30,000. Arrangements are put into place for air travel to Goma, as and when required to uplift the vehicles.
The flight to Goma takes about 30 mins. We locate the UNHCR Office at the airport and are given the keys to the vehicles. Number plates are fitted and all are checked for oil, etc. Arrangements have been made for them to be fuelled at a local garage. We are informed that the vehicles are to be loaded with medical supplies, to be transported to Bukavu for onward shipment. Loading takes a further hour.
The drive back to Bukavu is via one of the most picturesque routes in the world. The road is, however, one of the worst!
15th August 1994
The day starts as usual with the arrival of the BAC1-11. It is causing a huge amount of damage to the runway but, to date, UNHCR have been unable to stop it, or to have it diverted to another airfield. The crew seem only interested in a quick turn round. If they are in first in the morning, we are able to unload them, although this means carrying the beans to the grass as no lorries are on site at that time – vehicles and local labour does not arrive until around 8 a.m.
A Canadian flight comes in to uplift a group of young orphans. They sit on the apron for hours and are finally told to return empty. Apparently, older children in the camps refused to allow the younger ones to be taken out.
17th August 1994
A local Army General is expected to arrive in the afternoon and an honour guard arrives from the Zaire Army.
Two motor bikes are delivered to the airport, in bits, with no parts list and no instructions. UNHCR ask if we will build them up and deliver them to town as soon as possible.
18th August 1994
The first of the loading platforms is now in commission and being used to load the goods into the back of the trucks. Its use takes at least 45 minutes off the normal loading time. It is hoped to build at least another 2 units.
20th August 1994
This was a typical day for the team, which was spent on the airfield. With the construction of the loading ramp and the use of the forklift, life has become much simpler. Only about 40% of the incoming cargo must be taken off by hand. What has become apparent is that some agencies have no concept of how goods are moved once in the field. Loads are designed, cased and loaded within the normal world using the most up to date devices. When they arrive here, even if they can be removed from the aircraft using the forklift, they cannot be placed onto the vehicles.
Trucks in this part of the world have only rear opening doors. With the restricted access for the forklift, loads cannot always be placed in the back and pushed forward. If this can be done then there is the problem of how they get it out at the other end.
The day also turned into one of data collection:
Death toll in Goma – 43,000
Border into Rwanda closed.
The mass exodus has not occurred but, even so, the camps in and around Bukavu are overflowing.
We have been asked to help outside agencies tomorrow by delivering water equipment to a camp and also to help with the installation of some items. We are given a four wheel drive lorry to deliver the goods.
21st August 1994
This was one of the busiest days yet and just as it starts to wind down we are asked to help at another road accident. This takes about 2 hours and means that the team have now been working for some 19 hours.
They are only just back into camp when a radio message informs them that one of the UN vehicles has gone off the road.
All in a long day’s work, we finally settle down after 21 hours. At the end of a perfect day we estimate that we have helped some 8,000 families.
For the first time we have a day free of the dreaded biscuits. Tons of biscuits have been delivered and are now in a warehouse in the town.
22nd August 1994
The refugees will not eat them and for days UNHCR have been unable to stop their shipment. This ties up planes, loading and unloading facilities, transport and storage. The only ones who are pleased are the rats who are doing their best to help remove the problem!
1st September 1994
On arrival at Entebbe, on the way home, the team is told that no seats are available for at least four days; even then, they cannot be guaranteed as we would only be carried under a seats available basis. We settle down for a protracted wait.
2nd September 1994
As we arrive at the airport, a gentleman who is working for the ODA advises us that he has been able to put together a flight to Gatwick. It is on a commercial cargo flight, with no catering, etc., via Kenya and Cairo and we must be willing to stop over in Kenya for ten to twelve hours. A nod of agreement and we are running down the apron to the plane.
It has the doors closed and we are required to do some fast talking to get steps over to it and the door opened. The crew agrees to us travelling and we are in the air by 1130hrs. This is a 707 plane which has brought aid into Entebbe and has a cargo of flowers from Nairobi to the UK.
3rd September 1994
Home! And back to work!
|Willie McMartin||Team Leader|
|Graham Payne||Team Medic|
|John Miller||General building|
|Barry Sessions||General building|
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