JDC Medical Teams Tending Returning Rwandan Refugees

A medical team dispatched by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee has been tending to the stream of Rwandan refugees heading home from Tanzania.

More than 100,000 refugees streamed into Rwanda earlier this week, and hundred of thousands were expected to follow, Gideon Taylor, JDC assistant executive vice president, said Tuesday.

Hordes of people throughout Central Africa have been turned into refugees because of the region’s ethnic strife, largely based on enmity between the Hutu and Tutsi tribes.

Tanzania has demanded that all of its more than 500,000 Rwandan refugees leave by the end of the year. But reports emerged this week that thousands of them are heading back to the Tanzanian camps they abandoned after being corralled by militants.

The two-person JDC team based in Kibongo, Rwanda, includes Art Fost, an American Jew from New Jersey.

Fost and a nurse have a mobile medical unit, from which they treat a one-mile stretch of a “huge column of refugees,” said Taylor, who is based in New York.

The team is in the “eye of the storm” Taylor added.

Another JDC team, headed by American Rick Hodes, is still at work in Kigoma, Tanzania.

Hodes and the two other members of his team — the three are at separate sites in Tanzania — provide medical care for tens of thousands of mostly Zairian and Burundian refugees.

The JDC has had a presence in the region since the 1994 civil war in Rwanda, which saw the massacre of hundreds of thousands of people and which precipitated the current crisis in the region.

Funding for all the medical programs comes from special donations to the JDC Open Mailbox, which is supported by a coalition of 39 Jewish groups. The JDC is the coalition’s operating arm.

The medical teams work in partnership with the International Rescue Committee, a U.S.-based group.

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