Back to Common Ground Archive


Program 9710
March 11, 1997


Waja John, Assistant Field Director,
United Nations High Commission for Refugees

Stella Sabiiti, Executive Director,
Center for Conflict Resolution, Uganda

Oyukutu Valente, Relief Coordinator,
Rwandese Refugee Operation, International Red Cross

This text has been professionally transcribed. However, for timely distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.

KEITH PORTER, Producer: So this spot that we’re on has been used for refugees for almost
40 years?

WAJA JOHN, Assistant Field Director, United Nations High Commission for Refugees: Almost
40 years, yes, and by a coincidence, for refugees from Rwanda. Yes.

PORTER: Just different groups.

JOHN: Just different groups.

PORTER: Life in an African refugee camp on this edition of Common Ground.

STELLA SABIITI, Executive Director, Center for Conflict Resolution, Uganda: I was a
refugee for more than 10 years. I was forced out of my country, and yet at the same time, I read
about refugees from Rwanda or Zaire or Kenya living happily in my country which had kicked me
out. I couldn’t believe it.

PORTER: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape
events. It’s produced by the Stanley Foundation. I’m Keith Porter.

We have all heard the basic outline of the Rwanda genocide story. In the early 1990s, the Rwandan
government, led by members of the Hutu tribe, laid the groundwork for a systematic genocide
against members of the Tutsi tribe and against Hutu moderates. In 1994 the genocide was carried
out and in just ten weeks, at least half a million Tutsis were killed, as well as thousands of
Hutus who got in the way. The government of Rwanda, including many people implicated in the
genocide, collapsed. The leaders, the army and one million Hutu refugees fled the country. These
refugees are now in camps spread throughout eastern Africa.

JOHN: When we met the initial transfers from the reception centers, we had about 4,000.
That is in October 1994.

PORTER: This is Waja John. He is the Assistant Field Director for the United Nations High
Commission for Refugees, known as UNHCR. John oversees operations at several camps in this

JOHN: The population has gradually grown from October 1994 to about December last year to
almost 8,000, until in December when we received the 4,000 from Tanzania.

PORTER: Of these 12,000, where did they come from?

JOHN: All Rwandese.

PORTER: All are from Rwanda? And do you know which tribes they’re from?

JOHN: Yeah, the Hutu.

PORTER: All of them?

JOHN: All of them are the Hutu tribe.

PORTER: How are conditions in this camp?

JOHN: Well, fine I guess.

PORTER: We heard someone says that they complained they didn’t have enough food.

JOHN: There has been a shortage of deliveries of food. There was nothing in the pipeline,
but some food came three weeks ago. Of course the problem which impounded these was that they had
stocks of their own but they had to share with the group from Tanzania. So this is what has
caused a bit of the problem.

PORTER: How long do you think these people will be here?

JOHN: It’s difficult for me to answer. As long as the conditions remain as they are or at
least as they say the conditions are in Rwanda; they might be here for some time.

PORTER: When you were talking about the Tanzanians, Sir, you meant Rwandans who had been
in Tanzanian camp who came here.

JOHN: Right, and were moved here.

PORTER: Okay, now we’re going to go look at the camp?

JOHN: Sure.

PORTER: This particular camp is called Rukujinga. It is in Uganda but is merely a two
hour drive from the Rwandan border, and Waja John is unmistakably the man in charge of Rukujinga.
Although others may have titles like Camp Manager or National Relief Coordinator, they all defer
to the man from UNHCR. As we ride through the camp with John, he gives us a guided tour.

How big is this camp?

JOHN: Area?


JOHN: Originally it was 13 square kilometers.

PORTER: And now?

JOHN: We do not have the specific size because we have not done any survey lately. There
has been a lot of encroachment on it.

PORTER: The people living here, do they have their own buildings they live in or what do
they… does each family have its own unit?

JOHN: The refugees?


JOHN: Yes, each family has got a unit.

PORTER: Who provides those?

JOHN: The materials are provided by UNHCR, especially the plastic sheeting and the money
for the other components of the building material.

PORTER: I see an awful lot of children. Do you have any figures on how many of the people
in the camp are children, how many adults?

JOHN: Children below the age of 17 comprise about 70% of the population.

PORTER: Wow. What language do these people speak?

JOHN: They are speaking Kinyarwanda.

PORTER: Okay. Where did you come from?

JOHN: I come from West Nile.

PORTER: From West where?

JOHN: West Nile.

PORTER: West Nile.

JOHN: Yes.

PORTER: I see. In Uganda?

JOHN: Yes.

PORTER: In the north of Uganda?

JOHN: Northwest of Uganda.

PORTER: I see. How long have you been doing this job? How long have you been working for

JOHN: UNHCR? Two years, eight months.

PORTER: What did you do before that?

JOHN: I was doing something else. I was working for Norwegian Association of the

PORTER: So you’ve been involved in NGO work and…

JOHN: Most of my life work, yes I have.

PORTER: When you talk about the field where you have the five existing camps, are they
all similar to this one?

JOHN: There is a slight variation. The two camps in Kisoro?? and the Matanda?? which is
in the Kangere ?? district, are reception camps, what you call transit camps. This was the new
influx in November of last year. So that is a transit camp; this is more or less a pseudo
settlement because the refugees have more land to construct their shelter. They also have access
to cultivating crops. The best camp, what under, in UNHCR is called local settlement is Kyaka.

PORTER: Are the people in this camp safe?

JOHN: They are safe. They have been for the last two years and three months in this camp.
There have been no security incidents at all.

PORTER: There have been no security incident


PORTER: Oftentimes we hear of either rebel activity being planned or carried out from
camps like this or maybe attacks being made on camps. Do you have any of that here?

JOHN: No. We’ve never had those reports, or those incidents before.

PORTER: At other camps?

JOHN: At least not in this country.

PORTER: Do people here grow their own food?

JOHN: They grow some food of their own. But they have been on what you call 100% rations
since they came into the country.

PORTER: Does that mean you provide them with 100% of their basic food needs?

JOHN: The amount of food which is being provided is based on the calculation that can
sustain a human life. We cannot say that it is 100% of what their human needs are.

PORTER: Is that what you mean by 100% rations though?

JOHN: Yes.

PORTER: Do you know what was on this spot before October of ’94?

JOHN: Yes, before October of ’94 there was another group of Rwandese refugees,
incidentally the Tutsis of the 1959-1960 conflict, who used to reside in this camp. Most of them
repatriated to Rwanda between July and August of 1994, thus making this place vacant for
occupation by another group.

PORTER: So this spot that we’re on has been used for refugees for almost 40 years?

JOHN: Almost forty years, yes. And by coincidence for refugees from Rwanda.

PORTER: Yes, just different groups.

JOHN: Just different groups, right.

PORTER: Is this part of the camp out here?

JOHN: Yes.

PORTER: Can you describe… what is that up there on the hillside that we see?

JOHN: On the hillside there is some stalks of maize and sorghum grown by the refugees.
That green that you see is some casaba, also grown by the refugees. The bananas you see across,
or just at the foots of the hill were left by the previous refugee group.

PORTER: And what… on the other side of the valley there on that hillside, what is that?

JOHN: That is also part of the camp.

PORTER: I mean are those homes?

JOHN: Yes, that is where they reside. Individual homes for families and you can see the
extent of cultivation. This is more or less the harvesting time. They have been harvesting the
last one month or so.

OYUKUTU VALENTE: Here at least they have adequate food, especially their own plantation
and also their own crops which they have grown. It was only slight at the beginning of the month
but the food pipeline could use a bit but we have now gotten enough food to give them.

PORTER: This is Oyukutu Valente. He’s Refugee Relief Coordinator for the Ugandan Red
Cross and the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent.

VALENTE, Relief Coordinator, Rwandese Refugee Operation, International Red Cross: As you
can see, most of the shelters are within where they are cultivating And most of these refugees
whom we have here, almost all of them, are very hard working and they have planted a lot of crops
which they have just started harvesting, as you can see some of them. So it goes up to the other
portion which is appearing a bit blank, all those are areas they are cultivating, moving down
this side. But this is only a smaller portion of the community. Now right on this side, we shall
be moving to where the community is much more and then we shall move much closer to the shelters.

PORTER: Because this camp contains Hutus from Rwanda, there is the possibility that some
of the residents were involved in the genocide. This is of particular interest to the
international tribunal charged with prosecuting war criminals from Rwanda. Charles Brown is a
human rights investigator from Freedom House in the United States. During our tour of the camp he
put this question to Oyukutu Valente of the Red Cross.

CHARLES BROWN, Director of Training and Program Development, Freedom House: It’s my
understanding that a majority of the residents of this particular camp are Hutus. Is that

VALENTE: Yes, that’s correct.

BROWN: Is the leadership of this camp people who helped perpetrate the genocide in 1994.

VALENTE: I have no idea about that.

PORTER: Has the war crimes tribunal come here to interview anyone?

VALENTE: Not that I know of.

PORTER: We also put these questions to Waja John, of UNHCR.

JOHN: No, I am not aware. At least, I was, I can say that I am the longest-serving in
this region, in this Rwandese program. Whether it is from the implementing partner or from UNHCR.
I have been with them right from May of 1994. The group that crossed at that particular time and
have continued to cross out today, are basically the peasantry. Of course, I cannot say yes,
there is part of the people here who might have participated or not. I do not have that
information, and I’ve not come across any during the 2 years and 8 months I have been working
with them. And at least you can see that with this tribunal going on, so far no one has been
interdicted from Uganda. So I guess that’s a very good sign that we don’t have the
Interahme or somebody associated with the genocide in Rwanda in these camps.

PORTER: How long have you been at this camp?

RUTOGAMARA: (through a translator) Yes, seven months.

BROWN: And where did you come from before that?

PORTER: John Bosco Rutogamara is a resident of the camp.

RUTOGAMARA: (through a translator) Yeah, before he came to this camp he was in one of
the villages in Uganda and was acting in his field that is medical.

BROWN: Were you involved at all in the fighting in Rwanda?

RUTOGAMARA: Oh yeah. He was working in the medical hospital in Rwanda.

BROWN: And why did you have to leave Rwanda

RUTOGAMARA: Yeah, they moved out of Rwanda because of the little peace that was existing
at that time?

BROWN: Because of the little peace that was existing?

RUTOGAMARA: That’s right.

BROWN: And what does he, does he think that he’s being treated well and that the other
refugees are being treated well here?

RUTOGAMARA: Yes. He says the refugees which are in Uganda are being looked after and they
are being given assistance. There is not much problem here.

BROWN: Does he think there are problems at the other camps, in other countries?

RUTOGAMARA: Yes, in other camps he hears that they are not being treated well, especially
in the aspects of medicine, which he is concerned with feels that he can play a vital in that if
he can reach them.

BROWN: Can you tell me what these, what people are doing right here?

TRANSLATOR: They are fetching water. In here we have a very few shallow wells.

PORTER: Describing the scene here is Saturday Joshua, Acting Camp Manager of Rukujinga.

JOSHUA: That’s why you see the congestion of jerry cans and people here?

BROWN: You have very few what?

JOSHUA: Very few shallow wells. The water collecting centers.

BROWN: Shallow wells. That’s right. Okay. And how many of these type of pumps are there
in this camp? Do you know?

JOSHUA: We have ten, but they are not enough. So the water department is, the water and
sanitation department of Ugandan Red Cross is trying to put in more. But we are not yet, have not
yet established them.

BROWN: There are refugees from other East African conflicts currently living in camps in
Uganda. How do Ugandans feel about the presence of these camps and of these refugees?

SABIITI: Mixed. It’s a mixed reaction.

PORTER: Stella Sabiti is Executive Director of the Center for Conflict Resolution in
Uganda. She visited Rukuginga at the same time I did. More importantly, she herself has spent
many years in the past as a refugee from Uganda.

SABIITI: There are some refugees from Rwanda, after the genocide, so some of them are
implicated. But we visited the camp a few days ago, and they are resettled in an area where there
isn’t too much interaction with the local population, so there I really am not sure. Because I
didn’t have any chance to talk with those people. But from past experience I know that there’s
been some kind of antagonism and resentment on the part of the local population, because the
refugees tend to be looked after better by the government, by the UNHCR and other agencies. So
the local people feel that they have been forgotten and all the attention is being focused on the

PORTER: I know that many Ugandans spent years in exile or perhaps as refugees under the
different regimes here. Do people somehow feel that there is, that by hosting refugees Uganda is
somehow repaying a debt for those years that maybe other Ugandans spent outside of Uganda.

SABIITI: I think every member of the UN and every member of the OAU has an obligation to
take care of any refugees that come in. I think they signed a declaration, they signed an
agreement or something some years back, I’m not exactly sure. But every government is supposed to
do that. And, let me just say that I was impressed at the camp that we visited. ‘Cause these
refugees are so to speak the ones who were against the RPF, which is the current government in
Rwanda. Now Uganda is accused of being very, very friendly with the RPF government in place in
Kigali. And yet at the same time the Uganda government is taking good care of those refugees who
might have taken part in the genocide. I find that commendable. And as we saw, there was, there
was no lack of security, I mean they didn’t, the refugees didn’t complain about anything. But now
I’ve lived as a refugee myself for more than 10 years, from different regimes. And I always felt
as a refugee outside Uganda, I always felt bad towards the refugees in Uganda. I just wondered,
why my own country couldn’t take of me. I mean, they were wanting to kill me and you know, all of
us refugees, they couldn’t take care of us. They wanted to see us go away. How could they, how
could the same government welcome foreigners whom they didn’t know, and do so many nice things to
them. I was a refugee for more than 10 years. I was forced out of my country. And yet at the same
time I read about refugees from Rwanda or Zaire or Kenya, living happily in my
country, which had kicked me out. I couldn’t believe it.

PORTER: We’re talking in this edition of Common Ground about life in a Rwandan
refugee camp. Printed transcripts and audio cassettes of this program are available. Listen at
the end of the broadcast for details. Common Ground is a service of the Stanley
Foundation, a non-profit, non-partisan organization that conducts a wide range of programs meant
to provoke thought and encourage dialogue on world affairs.

PORTER: What kind of health care do people get here?

JOHN: We’ve got a dispensary within the camp. It’s also one of those dispensaries set up
with, for the 1960 case lot. We refer to the older group as the 1960 case lot.

PORTER: Back at the Rukuginga Camp, our tour with Waja John of the United Nations High
Commission for Refugees, continues.

JOHN: It provides the basic health care facility, both to the nationals and to the
refugees. We have a referral system to a hospital in Mbrara, 52 kilometers away, for further
investigations and treatment. And if that should fail we’ve got the National Hospital, Milago,
where the patients end up being referred.

PORTER: How about education? Do all those children get to go to school?

JOHN: They all go to school. We have four primary schools within the camp, of which two
are active. The other two are not active. One is because of the size of the settlement.
Originally refugees were settled in what is referred to as local settlement. They have a parcel
of land for both cultivation and shelter. But this particular camp, we were requested by the
government that they should be settled in transit. It means they have one piece of land for
shelter and another piece for cultivation. So, because of this arrangement we could not utilize
the other two schools, which are further away from this camp.

PORTER: What about the governance of the camp? Do the camp people, do the refugees get to
elect their own leaders and have any say?

JOHN: There is what you call a refugee welfare committee, based on the Ugandan local
council committee system, where representatives are elected by the masses. And we have 3
hierarchy system from the Refugee Welfare Committee 1, to Refugee Welfare Committee 2, and then
the Camp Executive is the Refugee Welfare Committee 3. So all the zones are represented by nine
persons on each committee for the administration of the camp, and this is the group that you met
earlier on who were supposed to act as the linchpin between the administration and their fellow

PORTER: Who settles any disputes that might arise among refugees?

JOHN: Initially the Welfare Committee 1 should address the problem. And if they don’t,
they pass it on to the Welfare 2, and then to Welfare 3. If they fail, at Welfare 3, it now comes
to the Camp Commandant to settle the dispute.

PORTER: And who is the Camp Commander?

JOHN: The Camp Commandant is the government representative who administers the camp.

PORTER: And what’s his name here?

JOHN: His name is Azou Bayakou??. His area is basically about security and land.

PORTER: As we drive around here, obviously there aren’t, I mean the camp seems awfully
large. There’s an awful lot of space.

JOHN: Yes.

PORTER: There aren’t roads in the camp, evidently that are intended for vehicles, though.

JOHN: No. There are no roads intended for vehicles in the camp because there is no need
to drive around the camp. Only that these tracks have been put, have been created because of a
need to get access to certain parts of the camp. You can see they are finished harvesting most of
their crops. Others are begin preparing land for planting in the next year rainy season.

PORTER: The residences that we are seeing are made out of mud….

JOHN: Mud, wattle, plastic sheeting, and a bit of grass or leaves to create better

PORTER: Well, I must say, just from driving around this bit, I mean conditions look
pretty good.

JOHN: I think the conditions are fine.

PORTER: How does this camp compare condition-wise with the other camps that you are in
charge of?

JOHN: This camp is a little bit different from the other camps. The other two camps are
transit camps; they have no access to cultivation, for example. They only have a 5×6, 5 meters by
6 meters, for them to put up their shelter. And everything else is being provided for. These
people at least have the advantage that they had 20×20 for their settlement—house and the other
amenities—and then they got an 80×50 meters somewhere else for cultivation. The other camp that
I have, which is the Chaka?? Camp, the people got two hectares per family. And they construct
their shelter their and cultivate on it. So they are more or less integrated; we are actually in
the process of phasing them out by June of this year.

PORTER: Where will they go?

JOHN: No, we phase out material assistance. Which means they have reached a level of
self-sufficiency. They can sustain themselves just like the nationals do in that area. [John
apparently is greeted by children.]

PORTER: Well that must be a good sign that you’re popular.

JOHN: They know me. I’ve been with them since they came to this country. As I said
earlier on, I’m the longest-serving staff member in the southwest.

PORTER: So the kids in the camp know your nickname?

JOHN: Yes.

PORTER: What is your nickname?

JOHN: My nickname is Rubaaga.

PORTER: And what does that mean?

JOHN: I won’t tell you!

PORTER: The word Rubaaga—it means God. For Common Ground, I’m Keith Porter.

Our theme music was created by B.J. Leiderman. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.

Copyright © Stanley Center for Peace and Security