We want to return home; Refugees tell minister

KARONGI -Despite the World Food Programme’s continued efforts to solicit for donor support to provide food assistance to all refugees in the country, refugees at the Kiziba Refugee Camp in Karongi District have requested to be repatriated.The thousands of refugees of Congolese origin want to return home after over a decade living as refugees, calling upon stakeholders to help them repatriate.
Minister Marcel Gatsinzi (2nd left) and other officials touring  Kiziba Refugee Camp. The New Times / Eric Kabera.
Minister Marcel Gatsinzi (2nd left) and other officials touring Kiziba Refugee Camp. The New Times / Eric Kabera.

KARONGI - Despite the World Food Programme’s continued efforts to solicit for donor support to provide food assistance to all refugees in the country, refugees at the Kiziba Refugee Camp in Karongi District have requested to be repatriated.

The thousands of refugees of Congolese origin want to return home after over a decade living as refugees, calling upon stakeholders to help them repatriate.

The refugees expressed their desire to return home on Thursday during a high level visit by several stakeholders led by the Minister of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs, Gen Marcel Gatsinzi.

Others included the Japanese Ambassador, Kunio Hatanaka and country representatives of the UN Refugees agency, UNHCR, and WFP, Neimah Warsame and Abdoulaye Balde, respectively.

Addressing the visitors, the refugees representative at the camp, Joseph Nkurikiyinka, commended the government for accommodating them over the years. He however revealed that it was time for them to return home.

“We are happy to receive you here; we are like a child who has seen a long lost parent. We have lived here but we cannot forget our home.

UNHCR, WFP, and Rwandan government have been assisting us and we thank you. Life is never easy in a camp and we shall never be satisfied unless we go home,” he said.

There are an estimated 54,000 Congolese refugees in three different camps in the country.

Last week, several Congolese refugees in Gihembe Camp in Gicumbi District also sought to return home, decrying a severe food shortage at the camp.

WFP recently appealed for donors support to cover a critical shortfall of 2,250 metric tonnes of assorted commodities valued at US$ 3.8 million, which is the sum needed to feed 54,000 Congolese refugees until the end of the year. However, refugees have insisted on returning to their country.

Kiziba camp is home to over 19,000 refugees. The camp was established in December 1996 following the closure of the Umubano Camp near Gisenyi due to attacks from the DRC by ex-FAR militias.

Addressing the refugees, Gatsinzi assured them that the government cannot forcefully repatriate them, saying that it would, alongside other partners, intervene to resolve their present predicament.

“Our government welcomed you and it will never chase you away unless you request for it. We have a tripartite agreement with the Democratic Republic of Congo and UNHCR for refugees to repatriate at their will. Therefore, as usual, we will work to ensure that your wishes are fulfilled,” Gatsinzi told the refugees.

Despite some parts of DRC still experiencing insurgencies, refugees have expressed the will to leave the camp, saying that they’d rather die from instability instead of hunger.

“We communicate with our relatives in DRC and we know there are some parts like Katanga where the Mai Mai rebels still kill people. Giving us five kilogrammes of maize per person per month is also like killing us; our children are crying, its better we go back home,” said Alex Sebinama, a father of six.

Owing to lack of funding, WFP has reduced maize rations from 11kgs per person per month to 5.2kgs. Beans remained at 3.6kgs per person per month, while oil and salt remained at 0.9kgs and 0.15kgs, respectively.

UNHCR’s Warsame acknowledged that there are many modalities normally involved in repatriating refugees, adding that any of them willing to return individually would be assisted but not as a group.

“An individual who needs to go (back home) is free to approach us; we shall provide assistance,” she noted.

The Japanese envoy to Rwanda assured the refugees that he would approach his government to seek means to extend assistance to the camp.

Ends

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