Controversy erupts over returnees

Controversy has broken out over the alleged presence of up to several thousand Kinyarwanda-speaking returnees in M23 territory.

For several weeks, there has been a steady movement of Congolese refugees into the Kibumba area north of Goma, the southern edge of M23 territory. According to several UN sources, there may be up to 3,000 such returnees in this area, mostly Congolese Tutsi who fled the country, some as long ago as 1994, and were living in refugee camps in Rwanda.

Another group of around 100-200 families then arrived on 30 September further north, in Jomba. According to some sources, these families may be Rwandans who were expelled from Tanzania weeks ago.

Very few of these families are probably from this area––a UN official told me that some of them had tried unsuccessfully to cross toward Masisi, which is probably where many of them are from. Their presence has raised questions. Some think that the M23 could use them as human shields in case of another round of fighting. A UN official told me that, given how close they are to M23 positions, it would make it difficult to employ UN attack helicopters in those areas to the same extent as they did during the August fighting against M23. If their arrival is confirmed, at the very least this is a lack of foresight and regulation by the various authorities, including UNHCR and the Rwandan National Council for Refugees.