Concerns about shelter as Congolese refugees arrive in Rwanda

News Stories, 7 May 2012

© UNHCR/A.Bronee
Congolese refugees arrive at the Nkamira Transit Centre in Rwanda.

NKAMIRA TRANSIT CENTRE, Rwanda, May 7 (UNHCR) Teenager Arsène is all alone in Rwanda; he was separated from his family in the rush to flee fighting between government forces and renegade troops in eastern Congo.

"When the soldiers started to shoot, I ran. I thought my family was following," the 15-year-old told UNHCR after arriving at the Nkamira Transit Centre. He was one of more than 6,200 people to flee to Rwanda from Democratic Republic of the Congo's North Kivu province since April 27.

Most are women, children and the elderly coming from North Kivu's Masisi and Walikale territories, where the fighting between government forces and soldiers loyal to former rebel commander Bosco Ntaganda also left almost 20,000 people internally displaced. News reports on Sunday said the army had ended its operations against mutinous troops.

Arsène said the fighting was chaotic, and civilians were caught in the crossfire. "I first heard gunshots, then I saw soldiers coming from behind a hill. One soldier was shot in the head. I do not know which side he was fighting for, all soldiers were wearing the same uniform," he recalled.

"I fled only with the clothes on my back," said Arsène, who was wearing his white school shirt under a dark blue sweater. "I am in Rwanda, but I am alone now," the boy said, his voice growing soft.

Sarah's family were also separated in the flight to Rwanda from their village in Masisi territory, which lies to the west of the North Kivu capital, Goma. She was working in the fields when the conflict swept into their area.

"Suddenly, our neighbours came rushing by, screaming. They said there was fighting in the area, so I hurried home. Two of my children were gone, I don't know where they ran. I took my [other five] children, I took a few kilos of beans, and I ran," the 40-year-old widow said, with a resigned look.

People have become almost inured to the cycle of violence in eastern Congo, and many have been displaced several times. Others resting in the massive warehouse tents (rubb halls) in Nkamira have similar tales to Sarah. But she also remained hopeful, purtting her faith in the ability of UNHCR and its partners to help find her missing two children.

This latest influx of people from North Kivu has put great strain on the Nkamira Transit Centre, which was visited on Sunday by officials from North Kivu, including Governor Julien Paluku Kahongya, who thanked Rwanda for hosting the refugees and said he hoped they could all go home soon.

After crossing into Rwanda at the border town of Gisenyi, the new arrivals have been transported by UNHCR and its partners to the Nkamira Transit Centre, 22 kilometres to the east. They are provided with food and items such as plastic mats, jerry cans, and crockery, but shelter is a major concern because the transit centre was only built to accommodate 2,600 people. With the urgent rehabilitation of 19 old rubb hall tents and the construction of 13 new ones, the capacity will be increased to 5,400.

Meanwhile, the government of Rwanda, UNHCR and many of its partners have worked tirelessly to provide clean water, sanitation facilities and basic health services. But if people continue arriving at a high rate, there will soon be critical gaps in humanitarian assistance.

Liz Ahua, deputy director of UNHCR's Africa Bureau, warned that "a new site will have to be found if more refugees continue to arrive on a daily basis."The rate of arrival has fallen since last week, but almost 400 entered Rwanda on Sunday.

While the UN refugee agency is discussing longer-term solutions with the Rwandan government, urgent donor support is needed in the short term. Rwanda is already hosting some 55,000 Congolese refugees who live in three already crowded camps across the country.

In recent years, the Nkamira Centre has hosted Rwandans as they returned to their home country from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They stayed here for one or two days before being transported to their villages of origin by UNHCR.

By Anouck Bronée in Nkamira Transit Centre, Rwanda.

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Statelessness Around the World

At least 10 million people in the world today are stateless. They are told that they don't belong anywhere. They are denied a nationality. And without one, they are denied their basic rights. From the moment they are born they are deprived of not only citizenship but, in many cases, even documentation of their birth. Many struggle throughout their lives with limited or no access to education, health care, employment, freedom of movement or sense of security. Many are unable to marry, while some people choose not to have children just to avoid passing on the stigma of statelessness. Even at the end of their lives, many stateless people are denied the dignity of a death certificate and proper burial.

The human impact of statelessness is tremendous. Generations and entire communities can be affected. But, with political will, statelessness is relatively easy to resolve. Thanks to government action, more than 4 million stateless people acquired a nationality between 2003 and 2013 or had their nationality confirmed. Between 2004 and 2014, twelve countries took steps to remove gender discrimination from their nationality laws - action that is vital to ensuring children are not left stateless if their fathers are stateless or unable to confer their nationality. Between 2011 and 2014, there were 42 accessions to the two statelessness conventions - indication of a growing consensus on the need to tackle statelessness. UNHCR's 10-year Campaign to End Statelessness seeks to give impetus to this. The campaign calls on states to take 10 actions that would bring a definitive end to this problem and the suffering it causes.

These images are available for use only to illustrate articles related to UNHCR statelessness campaign. They are not available for archiving, resale, redistribution, syndication or third party licensing, but only for one-time print/online usage. All images must be properly credited UNHCR/photographer's name

Statelessness Around the World

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American photojournalist Brian Sokol took these photos.

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