Lawmakers raise concern over high birth rates in refugee camps

SENATORS have expressed concern over reports of high birth rates in Congolese refugee camps in the country.
Children play in Nkamira transit camp. The New Times/ Timothy Kisambira.
Children play in Nkamira transit camp. The New Times/ Timothy Kisambira.

SENATORS have expressed concern over reports of high birth rates in Congolese refugee camps in the country.

The lawmakers called on international organisations charged with refugee affairs to work more closely with the government in ensuring that measures are put in place to control the birth rates and sexually transmitted diseases in the camps.

They were reacting to a senatorial report compiled by a group of Senators after touring the camps.

Presenting the report on Monday, the vice chairperson of the senatorial standing committee on foreign affairs, Jeanne d’Arc Mukakalisa, pointed out that, the situation in the camps is worrying, tricky and needs urgent attention.

Currently there are five refugee camps in Rwanda with more than 60,000 Congolese  citizens, including those who fled to Rwanda after a crisis broke out between the government of DRC and the M23 rebel group early last year.

“When we talked to the refugees they told us that the bigger the family the more food relief they get, and that that’s why they have to give birth to as many children as possible,” said Senator Mukakalisa.

Although Mukakalisa didn’t give figures, the Ministry of Disaster and Refugee Affairs  concurred with the Senate but pointed out that there are measures in place to deal with the problem.

The Director of Refugee Affairs in the ministry, Jean Claude Rwahama, says refugees believe that having many children is an advantage.

“We always tell them not to look at life in terms of food. We are also working with international NGOs like African Refugee Committee and African Humanitarian Action in supplying contraceptives to these refugees,” said Ruhama.

Cultural hindrance

The camps housing Congolese refugees include Gihembe Nyabiheke, and Kiziba. The other two which are considered as transit centers are Nkamira and Nyagatare.

The majority of the people in these camps are women and children.

Speaking to The New Times, Dr Morgetta Tenna of African Humanitarian Action, which operaes in Kiziba camp, said one of the major hindrances which cause high birth rates in camps is culture.

“On average, about 40 babies are born in Kiziba camp every month, this is a big number. The quantity of food supplied to a family in a refugee camp is based on the size of the family and this is why they tend to give birth to many children so as to get more food,” said Dr Tenna.

He, however, added that all types of contraceptives are available but the problem is that refugees deliberately refuse to use them.

The Head of Health Communication Centre at Rwanda Biomedical Center, Arthur Asiimwe, said the Health ministry provides refugee camps with the same package of family planning services that Rwandans access.

“We treat them like our own citizens. We train nurses working in health facilities within these camps on administering different family planning packages such as the use of pills, injectables, in-plants, among others,” said Asiimwe.

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