Three thousand to 4,000 Congolese refugees who camped out Wednesday in front of a U.N. office in western Rwanda, demanding better living conditions at their camp have been dispersed by security services on Thursday evening. Seven of them have been shot dead; twenty were injured, while fifteen are detained, according to Rwanda Police.
The refugees refused to go after marching out of the Kiziba camp on Tuesday and protesting in front of the office of UNHCR, the U.N. refugee agency, in the Karongi district. They jammed offices, installed kitchens around, using surroundings as toilets; but finally Police dispersed them after two days. Some of them resisted and were aggressive with traditional arms, as Police declared.
Position of Rwanda: Hospitality
In a statement issued on Tuesday, Rwanda government recognizes its hospitality towards migrants, asylum seekers in the region and beyond it.
“As a matter of practice and policy, Rwanda’s position on migrants and refugees has been to open its doors to any Africans in need of shelter. That policy is borne out of the History and the life lived by many Rwandans, as well as our own national values.
This policy has been applied for many years, to large numbers of migrants, refugees, long-term residents, from various countries in the region and beyond. Over the past several years, Rwanda has welcomed approximately 180,000 migrants from different African countries, including neighbor countries, with the assistance of the United Nations. Recently, Rwanda offered to host 30,000 victims of human trafficking in Libya”.
And about the Kiziba case, Jean Claude Rwahama, director of refugee affairs in the Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs, said "refugee representatives have been meeting camp management, local authorities, as well as U.N. partner agencies to discuss the cause of Tuesday’s incident."
Thus, Rwandan officials blamed the refugees for provoking the violence. "It is unfortunate that some refugees resorted to violence even as local authorities and security personnel were working to find a solution to their grievances," said Rwahama.
UNHCR calls for calm and restraint
Yesterday, Feb. 22nd 2018, UNHCR called for calm and restraint after worrying reports of a refugee protest turning violent in Rwanda’s Kiziba refugee camp.
As protesting refugees were reportedly angry about reduction in food assistance, UNHC said humanitarian operations in Rwanda remain severely underfunded, (only is 2 per cent funded), forcing the World Food Programme (WFP) to cut food rations by 10 per cent in November 2017 and by 25 per cent in January 2018.
“Refugee protection and safety is our top priority,” said Ahmed Baba Fall, UNHCR Representative in Rwanda.
UNHCR urges the refugees to respect local laws and express grievances through dialogue, while calling on authorities to handle the situation with calm and restraint.
Some refugees have also indicated their desire to return to the DRC, out of desperation.
“Refugees have the right to return to their country whenever they wish. But we urge refugees to make an informed decision and not to listen to misinformation or rumours,” added UNHCR’s Country Representative.
To date, UNHCR’s 2018 appeal for US$98.8 million to support refugees in Rwanda is only is 2 per cent funded, is therefore advocating with donors to address the gaps in humanitarian funding and urgent needs of refugees.
WFP warns about potential larger ration cuts if monthly requirements of US$2.5 million are not met. Prolonged ration cuts put at serious risk food security and nutritional needs of refugees, who are dependent on assistance.
Earlier Wednesday, a UNHCR official told refugees there was nothing the agency could do for them unless they returned to the camp. He said the issue was now in the hands of the government.
Refugees feel ‘abandoned’
Louis Maombi, president of the Congolese refugees committee in Kiziba, told VOA that they were surprised by the change of tone from UNHCR.
"We were promised a meeting with both UNHCR and Rwanda government officials. Now it looks like we are being abandoned," said Maombi. Though, refugees said they would not leave until their issues were resolved.
The refugees are demanding to be resettled in another country. If that does not happen, they say, they will walk back into the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Rwanda hosts over 173,000 refugees in six camps, including Kiziba, one of the oldest in Rwanda and home to about 17,000 Congolese. The camp was opened in 1996 to host Congolese who were fleeing insecurity in the eastern DRC.
Kiziba refugee camps is located in the Karongi District, in Western Rwanda and hosts over 17,000 refugees, around 77 per cent of which are women and children.
Some 130,000 Congolese and Burundian refugees living in Rwanda , rely on humanitarian assistance for food. They live in six camps: Gihembe/Gicumbi in North, Nyabiheke/Gatsibo in East, Kigeme/Nyamagabe in South, Mugomba/Gisagara in South, Mahama/Kirehe in East(burundians), and this Kiziba’s/Karongi in West.
They all receive either monthly distributions or cash transfers from WFP so that they can buy food in local markets. Rwanda says it is committed to ensuring the safety of refugees it hosts. "The government will continue to work with various partners, including U.N. agencies, to improve the well-being of all refugees living in Rwanda," it said.