UNHCR calls for calm following Congolese refugee protests

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, has called for calm and restraint following Tuesday’s violent protests by Congolese refugees at Kiziba refugee camp in Karongi District.

The refugees took to the street reportedly to voice their anger over reduction in food assistance.

In a statement released yesterday, the UNHCR explained that humanitarian operations in Rwanda remain severely underfunded, which forced 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,” Ahmed Baba Fall, UNHCR Representative in Rwanda said in the statement.

The agency urged the refugees to respect local laws and express grievances through dialogue, while calling on authorities to handle the situation with calm and restraint.

It acknowledged that some refugees have also indicated their desire to return to their country, 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 Baba Fall.

According to the statement, UNHCR is advocating with donors to address the gaps in humanitarian funding and urgent needs of refugees.

To date, it said, UNHCR’s 2018 appeal for US$98.8 million to support refugees in Rwanda is only 2 per cent funded.

The WFP also warned 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, it warned.

The UNHCR spoke out a day after the Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugees said that Rwanda National Police is to investigate the cause of the protests.

Rwanda hosts over 173,000 refugees in six camps, including Kiziba, where Congolese refugees have lived for over 20 years.

The Kiziba refugee camp hosts over 17,000 refugees, 77 per cent of whom are women and children.