Kigeme Refugee Camp

Sep 4, 2012


Kigeme is a new habitat for refugees. UNDP is among the UN Agencies that are partnering with the government of Rwanda to provide primary assistance to Congolese who have fled to Rwanda. Today, just a few months after thousands of refugees have settled in the camp, a delegation headed by the UNDP Country Director had a chance to see how the community adapts to life in Kigeme, in a jointly organized visit with the Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs (MIDIMAR) and the Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA).

Kigeme Refugee Camp is located in the Southern Rwanda. The visit intended to review the overall conditions in the camp and to come up with recommendations that will be implemented to improve these conditions. The overall conditions are reasonable but the new refugee camp is built on terraced steep hills separated by a busy road. The major concern is related to the approaching rainy season. Heavy rainfall will cause flooding and landslides due to the inadequate drainage systems. Additional concerns include the announced 25% reduction in food rations by WFP and lack of space for livelihood activities, particularly as the refugee population is not expected to return anytime soon.

Currently, Statistics indicate that 14, 000 refugees live in Kigeme Refugee camp. Many of these refugees are women and children. According to the latest figures, 40% of the refugee populations are children.

While touring the camp, the UNDP team can sense exhaustion amongst the people who come from an extremely volatile region, a part of the world that has been plagued by conflict for decades. Most of these refugees walked for days, were beaten, raped, lost dear ones before reaching the safety of the Kigeme camp.

Lying down in her empty room is Mukebwamanzi Justine, a mother of three. She gave birth to a baby boy two days ago and shakes her head when questioned about her life in DRC and how she is coping with the life as a refugee.

She says she hails from Gicanga. “It’s hard to get used to this life” she says. “Everything is limited. But we have learnt to accept this situation. We cannot change it and have to cope with it,” she added.

The woman fled the fighting in DRC with her children as the husband and 2 brothers had been killed. She still hopes one day she will return to her country. A few steps away, children are playing while young girls are preparing lunch. Others are washing clothes.

 Honoré Kabeya, the Cobbler

In front of one white-UNHCR-marked tent, a man is sitting on a small wooden chair and is repairing other refugees’ shoes. His name is Kabeya Honoré. Back in Congo, Honoré was not a cobbler by profession. He just learnt it in the camp to make some money.He says living in a camp is not an easy thing. “But, as time goes by, and if the conditions are improved, we will get used to this” he says.

Overall, despite their desperation, all these refugees have high hopes that soon they will return home. Additional batches of Congolese refugees are expected to be arriving in the camp over the next few months. Should their stay in Kigeme camp become protracted, the government of Rwanda and its partners like UNHCR and UNDP hope to implement longer term measures to improve life in the camp and also support the host communities.

This is not the first time that Kigeme has been home to refugees. It hosted thousands of Burundians until May 2009, when they were able to repatriate without fearing for their safety back home.

In a conversation held between MIDIMAR, REMA, and UNDP after the visit, both sides acknowledged the importance of such visits to the camp, and they agreed on a number of recommendations to address longer-term environmental challenges posed by the refugee population in this area.

UNDP agreed to provide full support in initiating different activities that will improve the life of the refugees and protect the environment. Some of these projects include the production of biogas, the introduction of fuel efficient stoves, and tree and grass planting as a measure to retain the fragile soil.

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