Support for Congolese Refugees in Rwanda—Perspectives for 2012

Greg Shaw serves as Regional Refugee Coordinator for the Great Lakes in the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.

As one makes the final approach into Kiziba Refugee Camp, located at more than 2,000 meters above sea level in the verdant hills above Kibuye town in western Rwanda, you are treated to spectacular views of the shimmering waters of Lake Kivu several hundred meters below. The camp, home to 18,950 registered refugees who fled fighting in the eastern portion of the Democratic Republic of Congo, is divided into 10 neighborhoods, each divided into five villages which include approximately 70 houses. Refugees live in detached family houses of 4.5 x 3.5m built with wooden poles with the sides covered with mud and the roofs made from plastic sheeting. Kiziba is well managed by the Government of Rwanda (GoR) with technical and financial assistance from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and several non-governmental organizations (NGOs), including the American Refugee Committee (ARC). ARC has embarked on a “Humanizing the Camp” initiative which involves refugees making no cost/low cost improvements to the camp such as rock paths and gardens in public areas of their villages, e.g., near latrines. This seems to be catching on with some villages competing to see which one can most beautify its surroundings.

The U.S. government, through the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM), is proud to partner with Rwanda’s Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs, UNHCR Rwanda, the World Food Program (WFP), and ARC to support protection and assistance for refugees in Rwanda. Aside from its contributions through UNHCR, PRM has been providing significant direct funding (in FY11 the grant was $ 1.7 million) to ARC to facilitate the provision of water, hygiene, and construction services in Gihembe, Nyabiheke, and Kiziba refugee camps, as well as gender-based violence prevention and response, and health and nutrition services in Gihembe and Nyabiheke camps. The United States, through USAID’s Food for Peace Program, is also a major contributor of food aid to WFP to ensure the adequate supply of food rations to refugees in Rwanda, and PRM made a cash contribution in 2011 to help rectify food pipeline breaks. Through a PRM Julia Taft Fund project via U.S. Embassy Kigali, funding was also provided to ARC to implement a poultry raising income generation project for widows and other vulnerable refugees in Gihembe Camp.

PRM looks forward to continued partnerships in 2012 and significant financial support in all three camps. During several PRM monitoring visits to Rwanda’s refugee camps in 2011, certain pressing needs, such as improving the camp’s water pumping station and dealing with the rapidly deepening ravines caused by erosion of the hillside, were highlighted and we look forward to working with the Rwandan government, UNHCR, ARC, and other partners to address these needs in 2012.

Finally, an exciting technology that we have been discussing with UNHCR and ARC involves the introduction of low cost “solar light” bulbs crafted from empty plastic soda bottles inserted into iron sheeted roofs. On any clear day, these solar light bulbs, which cost only a few dollars each to create, refract natural light and channel the equivalent of 55 watts of electrical light into a school, health center, or residential structure. ARC intends to initiate a pilot project to install these solar bulbs in the larger structures in Kiziba refugee camp that we hope will provide low-cost illumination for school children, doctors, and patients. Our continued support to these camps in Rwanda helps improve the lives of refugees until a durable solution to their displacement can be found.

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