Helena Christensen urges support for world's most underfunded refugee crisis

Rwanda. UNHCR High Profile Supporter Helena Christensen visits Burundian refugees in Rwanda

UNHCR High Profile Supporter Helena Christensen visits Burundian refugees in Rwanda.  © UNHCR/Hector Perez

UNHCR High profile supporter, model and photographer Helena Christensen is calling for urgent funding and global attention for Burundian refugees living in Rwanda following a trip with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. 

Christensen has just returned from Rwanda, where she met and photographed refugees who fled violence and persecution in Burundi and are now living in Rwanda’s Mahama refugee camp. Helena said, “The Burundian refugee crisis is now the most under-funded in the world. It is a crisis that people have not heard of and for which there is little attention. This needs to change. Because without funding, these refugees who have fled terrifying violence in Burundi – although they are now in safety in camps like Mahama they will not receive the basic shelter, food and support they need. I am supporting UNHCR’s urgent call for funds and hope that I can bring attention to this situation through my photography work and by sharing the stories of the refugees I have met.”

There are nearly 366,000 Burundian refugees living in neighboring countries including Rwanda, which has been hosting refugees for decades. The Government of Rwanda has generously maintained open borders and refugees in Rwanda and ensured they have access to the right to work as well as being progressively integrated into host communities, national health and education systems,as well as in their national development plans.  But international funding for UNHCR’s work with Burundian refugees throughout the region is currently only at 28 per cent of what is needed and funding is also needed to better support Burundi refugees in the region who are choosing to return.

Speaking to Helena on her trip, UNHCR’s camp manager in Mahama Camp, Rwanda, Paul Kenya detailed the impact this lack of funding is having on the lives of refugees. “ We have to make difficult decisions every day about how to spend this very limited funding on things that should have equal importance,” Kenya said. “Do we build toilets, offer a variety of foods, do we build a classroom, do we buy clothes for a newborn baby?  Whatever you choose affects the quality of people’s lives”.

Rwanda hosts some 172,000 refugees, including nearly 46 per cent from the Democratic Republic of Congo hosted in five camps, and 53 per cent from Burundi hosted in Mahama camp and urban areas.

To donate to help Burundian refugees please visit donate.unhcr.org/helena

To learn more about Helena’s work with UNHCR visit: unhcr.org/helena-christensen

Please visit media.unhcr.org/gwa to access Helena’s photographs from Rwanda and images of Helena in Rwanda.

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