The Minister of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs, Seraphine Mukantabana, yesterday appeared before Parliament to answer to queries on the state of welfare of refugees sheltered by the government.
Her summons by the Standing Committee on Unity, Human Rights and the fight against the Genocide was based on welfare concerns for the refugees in different camps as raised in the 2014/15 report by the National Commission for Human Rights.
Among the concerns include lack of access to drugs by refugees infected with HIV/AIDS.
The minister explained the various interventions in place ranging from access to basic healthcare and education for both Congolese and Burundian refugees in the country.
Other concerns that were raised in the report include severe malnutrition between mothers and children below five, crowded camps, insufficient supply of food, amongst others.
Minister Mukantabana, who acknowledged some challenges encountered in some programmes; however, stated that government’s efforts to handle refugee affairs were beyond the actual standards as provided by the United National High Commission for Refugees amid negative politics on refugee affairs.
According to the minister, medical services to all refugees have been generally efficient with exception of Mahama camp – which hosts Burundians – and relatively new compared to the other five camps hosting Congolese.
“All medical facilities in camps follow directives from the Ministry of Health; after relocating the refugees from Bugesera District to Mahama, it took time to have all the facilities ready so there were disruptions in flow of medical relief,” Munkatabana said.
“There were also budget issues mainly due to donor commitment, which had earlier indicated that they would only provide funds for only two years.”
Mukantabana attributed the issue of malnutrition noted by the commission to influx of Burundian refugees, which she said caused temporary shortage of food.
“Although we have managed to take it down significantly, we can’t do miracles, we follow international standards like saying that everybody is entitled to 2,100 calories per day, which refugees receive through nutritious food supply,
“However, refugees are also encouraged to supplement their food supply by looking for small income-generating activities to be able to get more balanced diet,” she added.
This, she said, has turned camps into business ventures where refugees have petitioned government and its partners to exchange their food ration with money, a move that donors opposed earlier but end-up bowing to pressure.
So far, only Gihembe (Gicumbi District), Nyabiheke (Karogi District) and Kigeme in Nyamagabe District have started to enjoy money in food exchange as the ministry continues to advocate for more exchanges including basic utensils and other necessities.
MPs also tasked the minister to explain more on the latest progress about the recently decisive programme to relocate Burundian refugees to another country, which she said is a meticulous exercise that needs careful implementation.
Rwanda last month said it had started the exercise of seeking third-party states into which Burundian refugees – currently said to be way over 70,000 – can be relocated, attributing the decision to the politicisation of the country’s hosting of the fleeing refugees.