PHOTOS: Envoys pledge more support for Burundian refugees

Foreign envoys accredited to Rwanda have reaffirmed their countries’ commitment to supporting refugees in the country. The pledge was made on Thursday as nine ambassadors and high commissioners from US, Canada, Kenya, Egypt, United Kingdom, Belgium, European Union, Germany, and South Korea, toured Mahama refugee camp in Kirehe District, home to 50, 013 Burundian refugees.
Amb. Barks-Ruggle with Aristarique Ngoga, the Mahama camp manager, in a light moment with a family that was given a semi-permanent house.  / Faustin Niyigena
Amb. Barks-Ruggle with Aristarique Ngoga, the Mahama camp manager, in a light moment with a family that was given a semi-permanent house. / Faustin Niyigena

Foreign envoys accredited to Rwanda have reaffirmed their countries’ commitment to supporting refugees in the country.

The pledge was made on Thursday as nine ambassadors and high commissioners from US, Canada, Kenya, Egypt, United Kingdom, Belgium, European Union, Germany, and South Korea, toured Mahama refugee camp in Kirehe District, home to 50, 013 Burundian refugees.

 
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A big number of the refugees still live in tents. / Faustin Niyigena

The tour was organised by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in collaboration with the Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs.

 
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US envoy to Rwanda, Erica J. Barks-Ruggle, and British High Commissioner to Rwanda, William Gelling pose for a baksetball team group photo with refugees at the camp. / Faustin Niyigena.

The pledge was in response to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) representative in Rwanda, Azam Saber, who made an appeal for more funding.

 
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British High Commissioner to Rwanda William Gelling enters one of the buildings as it rains in the camp on last Thursday. / Faustin Niyigena

According to statistics from UNHCR, 18 per cent of children and 22 per cent of girls in the camp are out of school, 21 per cent of the camp population still live in communal hangars while the camp has no energy alternatives to firewood.

These are the gaps among others that the UNHCR official said need to be bridged.

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Constructions are still going on for more semi-permanent shelters. / Faustin Niyigena

The UN refugee agency needs $64. 2 million to satisfy the needs of the camp and only $21.2 million; (equivalent to 33 per cent) has been raised, with 43 million or 67 per cent funding gap. 

“We have funding gaps. UNHCR functions on voluntary contribution. We don’t have a fixed budget allocated to us. We have to fight. We have come here to do our best in order to increase the funding gaps,” Azam said.

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Egyptian ambassador to Rwanda, Namira Nabil Mohammed (R), chats with second vice chancellor of Kenyan High Commission, Lena Nyambu (C) together with Paul Kenya, UNCHR head office in Kirehe. / Faustin Niyigena.

To reduce the number of out-of-school children, Azam revealed that classrooms for lower primary education will be opened in all refugee camps in the country soon.

The diplomats toured different facilities in the camp that include a water treatment plant with the capacity to produce 1, 2 million liters per day.

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Envoys at the water treatment plant that will soon start producing 1-2 million liters per day. / Faustin Niyigena.

Camp officials said it will be completed next month.

Other infrastructures include a new village with four-roomed housing units that were constructed for refugees as semi-permanent shelters, recreational facilities, among others. 

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Envoys climb one of the water treatment plants. / Faustin Niyigena
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Water treatment plants. / Faustin Niyigena.

Azam said the visit aimed to show donors what their contribution is bearin fruit, demonstrate the solidarity of the international community as well as highlight and recognise the good work that partners are doing.

Erica Barks Ruggles, the US ambassador to Rwanda said “Our visit was very critical. We appreciate the opportunity to see the progress that has been made. We are committed to continue to work with you to fix problems that have been identified.” 

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Envoys speak to the media after touring in Mahama camp last Thursday. / Faustin Niyigena

“The US remains the largest donor for refugees and we are committed to continuing that. We have given out $3. 8 billion this year for humanitarian and refugee affairs which is considerably more than 2.5 billion we gave last year. We are trying to increase that even more so that we can help take care of others who need our help most,” she said.

In Rwanda, the US has so far given $ 29.7 million this year towards refugee assistance.

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Some of semi-permanent shelters which were almost completed at the visit day. / Faustin Niyigena

“As we plan to increase our donations globally over the course of the next few months, we anticipate increasing our spending in Rwanda too,” added the US envoy.

Refugees raised issues such as food and firewood insufficiency, narrow rooms, street children, among others, that mirror the gaps in camp needs.

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The shelters might be damaged when it rains. / Faustin Niyigena

“They only give us little beans and maize and firewood for a whole month, this fuels theft in the camp,” said Jean Bosco Nduwantare.

“I have seven children with whom I share a two-roomed house. We are too congested,” added Jean Baptiste Kiraga.

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The South Korean ambassador to Rwanda, Park Yong Min (L), and US ambassador Erica J. Barks-Ruggle arrive at sports and entertainment site of the camp. / Faustin Niyigena

The UK High Commissioner to Rwanda, William Gelling, said his country will keep supporting refugees in the country.

“Funding continues to be a challenge. The UK will continue to contribute as much as we can. Here in Rwanda, we have spent 14 million pounds over the last 18 months on Burundian refugee situation and that will continue. We will focus on increasing provision and self-provision of livelihoods, making people less dependent on agencies in the camp and be self-sufficient in the future,” he said.

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UNHCR country director, Saber Azam (R), Egyptian envoy to Rwanda, Namira Mohammed (2nd right), and Canadian representative at the tour make a basketball team with refugees. / Faustin Niyigena.

Currently, Rwanda hosts 163,000 refugees, according to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugees Affairs most from DR Congo and Burundi.

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