UNHCR Aid Mission

A UN lorry delivering aid.

When the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi were killed when their aircraft crashed approaching Kigali airport, in the resulting civil war, hundreds of thousands of people were displaced.

Zaire - August 1994

One of the many children from a camp.

More than one million Rwandans flooded into the eastern Zaire town of Goma in four days. As many as 50,000 people died from Cholera within a matter of weeks in camps.

A huge international aid effort was launched and members of IRC took part in the relief effort.

This excerpt from the New York Times gives a flavour of the situation.

Aid Workers Fear Violence By Rwandans
Published: August 26, 1994

Increasingly threatened with axes and machetes, relief workers in teeming camps for Rwandan refugees said today that security had deteriorated so much that they could no longer guarantee normal aid operations.

A spokesman for the United Nations refugee agency said the camps in eastern Zaire, which now hold an estimated 800,000 people, were in “a virtual state of war.”
“It is now a matter of time before there will be incidents involving the hundreds of foreign aid workers now operating in the refugee camps around Goma,” said the spokesman, Ray Wilkinson of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Shortly after he spoke, a spokesman for the United Nations agency in Bukavu said aid workers had to evacuate a camp on the outskirts of the town after Rwandan refugees threatened them with axes and machetes.

“The situation was extremely hostile and threatening,” Mr. Janowski said. “The aid workers got in their cars and left immediately.”

The International Rescue Corps workers, a team of the medical charity Doctors Without Borders and 15 nuns working for the Spanish branch of Caritas were all evacuated.

Relief workers have already had rocks hurled at them and seen refugees hacked to death in the simmering tension of the squalid camps. And for the last two nights Goma has rung to sporadic gunfire.

As the last French soldiers remaining in the area dug in tonight behind a double ring of razor wire at Goma airport, relief officials said they now feared a security vacuum in the region.

A 2,300-strong French military force withdrew from Rwanda on Aug. 22 after a two-month operation to protect and feed Rwandans threatened by violence.

Hundreds of thousands of Rwandans, mainly members of the Tutsi ethnic minority, were slaughtered by Hutu militias, the mainly Hutu army and their supporters last spring.

Waves of Refugees

A few weeks later, the victory of a Tutsi-led rebel organization set off an exodus of hundreds of thousands of Rwandans, mostly Hutu, into Goma, Zaire. Tens of thousands more fled last week into Bukavu as the French prepared to withdraw from a “safe zone” in southwestern Rwanda.

In recent weeks, some of the militiamen and members of their ousted Hutu Government have sought to deter refugees from returning to Rwanda, which is now controlled by the Tutsi-dominated Rwanda Patriotic Front.

A camp outside Goma.

One of the many children from a camp.

An aircraft lies abandoned at the side of the airstrip in Goma.

On the road between Goma and Bukavu.

A camp on the road between Goma and Bukavu.

A UN lorry at the airfield in Goma