Govt, UN join efforts to empower refugees

The government and the UN’s refugee agency yesterday launched a joint strategy meant to support economic development of refugees in host communities, at an event attended by different stakeholders, in Kigali.
Participants at the meeting in Kigali yesterday. (Nadege Imbabazi.)
Participants at the meeting in Kigali yesterday. (Nadege Imbabazi.)

The government and the UN’s refugee agency yesterday launched a joint strategy meant to support economic development of refugees in host communities, at an event attended by different stakeholders, in Kigali.

The 2016-2020 strategy, jointly owned by the Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs (MIDMAR) and the UNHCR, envisions that, eventually, all refugees and neighbouring communities are able to fulfill their productive potential as self-reliant members of society ably contributing to the economic development of the host nation.


Seraphine Mukantabana, the Minister for Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs (MIDIMAR), said the launch “has come at an appropriate time” following the recently concluded Refugees Summit at the UN General Assembly to address large movements of refugees and migrants, with the aim of rallying countries behind a more humane and coordinated approach.


She said: “This is an opportunity to look back as a nation and with partners at what our country has achieved over the years in finding solutions to the refugee problem, recognise efforts made by all of you here present to make it possible, but also, to identify what could be done and how best to make it happen, together.”


“It is our belief in Rwanda that the responsibility put on our nation of receiving refugees and making them as comfortable as humanely possible is more of a moral than humanitarian act.”

The overall objective of the strategy, according to Jacob Oster, livelihoods officer at UNHCR, is for the refugee camps in the country to become places of vibrant social and economic activity with active markets, shops, restaurants, and industries, such as cottage factories, run by refugees together with the host communities.

This, he noted, will eventually create jobs even for the host communities within and beyond the districts where refugee camps are situated. To make things happen, the ministry and UNHCR are to work with the Private Sector Federation (PSF) as well as individual companies towards the inclusion of refugee-hosting areas in their value chains.

This includes setting up cottage industries for the production of goods and services required by refugees and host communities and ensuring that people with marketable skills in both groups “are employable in their businesses.”

The task at hand, it was explained, is getting to a situation whereby a refugee is free from dependence from humanitarian aid and only relies on MIDMAR and UNHCR for international protection.

Kepler University taking higher education to refugees

Taking participants through the joint strategy, Oster presented concrete examples of institutions that are providing refugees in the country opportunities to be self-reliant.

He cited the Kimironko-based Kepler University, a non-profit education institution which is helping Rwandan and refugee students, alike, to obtain American university degrees without leaving Rwanda. The UNHCR is partnering with the varsity to ensure that all its refugee students have access to paid internship during their studies and jobs for entrepreneurship after graduation, he said.

Sylivia Uhirwa, the Admissions and Communications Manager at Kepler University, told The New Times that they launched a “reinventing higher education” programme in Kiziba refugee camp, located in the Western Province, last year, with view to taking higher education opportunities “to the most disadvantaged” and in a more easily accessible manner.

“People in refugee camps get access to primary and secondary school education but it is usually difficult for them to access university education. Our programme was welcomed with open arms as the students are eager to learn,” Uhirwa said.

“The community setting in Kiziba is very organised, being one of the oldest refugee camps in the country. It’s easy to connect with the students there. They are eager and always involved in many things, including teaching in local secondary schools.”

The world’s first American university campus in a refugee camp, she said, has been to various refugee camps in the country to determine the number of interested refugee students who meet requirements for the competitive programme.

The university now counts 50 refugee students in Kiziba and is considering an expansion programme to other camps.

Other examples presented by Oster include Inyenyeri, a social enterprise that leases high-tech clean cooking stoves to low income households in exchange for either cash or biomass that the firm then turns into fuel pellets for use in stoves.

MIDIMAR and the UNHCR are partnering to enable Inyenyeri to establish markets in refugee camps and include refugees in the value chain as retailers, maintainers, and producers.

Rwanda hosts about 160,000 refugees in six refugee camps across the country, namely Kiziba camp in Karongi District; Nyabiheke, Gihembe, Kigeme camps in Nyamagabe District; Mugombwa camp in Gisagara District and Mahama camp in Kirehe District.

Almost all the refugees come from neighbours DR Congo and Burundi, that have experienced conflict and political tensions in recent years.

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