The Embassy of Belgium to Rwanda visits Kigeme refugee camp

Kigeme refugee camp, home to nearly 20,500 refugees, was opened in mid-2012 after a sudden influx of over 35,000 refugees from the DRC.

Kigeme camp: The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, hosted in Kigeme refugee camp a delegation from the Belgium Embassy composed of H.E Benoit Ryelandt, Ambassador of Belgium to Rwanda and other members of the Embassy. The aim of the visit was for the delegation to visit Kigeme refugee camp with a focus on the innovative project on alternative cooking solutions to firewood, for refugees to reduce environmental, health and protection impacts of cooking (with firewood) as well as enhance their livelihoods.

The Kingdom of Belgium contributed some Euros 500,000 to UNHCR to facilitate the nearly 20,500 Congolese refugees of Kigeme camp to switch from in-kind distribution of firewood to cash for energy, to purchase alternative cooking energy solution, that are cleaner, more environmentally friendly and enable them to reduce time spent both on cooking and on queuing or looking for energy sources. UNHCR partnered with a Rwandan private sector social enterprise, Inyenyeri, to support this. In 2018, another Rwandan company, Bamboo RiverSide, producing briquettes, also opened a shop in Kigeme camp to offer another option to refugees. By ensuring that refugees have access to these alternatives, UNHCR intends to gradually totally eliminate distribution and use of firewood as a cooking energy source. As of October 2018, nearly half of Kigeme camp had voluntarily opted in for cash for energy (instead of in kind) and registered with either of the two private sector actors offering alternatives in Kigeme camp. The scale-up is gradual and ongoing.

The high demand for firewood as fuel for cooking has an immense impact on forests and to date, tends to be the most common environmental degradation associated with refugee sites, globally. In many areas, this has led to tensions with host communities and authorities. It also has negative health impacts on its users and prevents them from engaging in more productive activities considering time spent for collection and cooking. Use of alternative energy is therefore considered equally important in terms of environmental protection and of social, economic and protection related issues.

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H.E Benoit Ryelandt, Ambassador of Belgium to Rwanda and other members of the Embassy and UNHCR staff visit one refugee family in Kigeme - Photo: Courtesy

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H.E Benoit Ryelandt, Ambassador of Belgium to Rwanda and Mr Ahmed Baba Fall UNHCR Representative to Rwanda, and other members of the delegation visited Inyenyeri pellets project in Kigeme refugee camp. Photo: Courtesy

H.E Benoit Ryelandts and his team had the opportunity to interact with refugees receiving cash to purchase alternative cooking energy sources as well as refugees still receiving in kind firewood. “The use of Inyenyeri pellets has allowed me to cook with my baby on my back without any smoke harming him”, said one Inyenyeri client during the discussion. “I can spend more time on other activities including caring for my family finding employment outside the camp than when I was cooking with firewood”, highlighted another one.

The president of the Refugee Executive Committee, Edison Munyakarambi, expressed his gratitude for the support provided to refugees living in Kigeme refugee camp, and in particular with regards to the cash for energy opportunity funded by the Kingdom of Belgium which has had may positive impacts in terms of health, security and time saving considering how long it takes refugees to collect – and prepare meals – with firewood.

The delegation was impressed by a live demonstration of a meal preparation with the Inyenyeri cooking solution and was able to visit one client using the system at home to get hands on feedback. “The Inyenyeri pellets improved my life; we are eight in the family with myself and my seven children. My husband lives with us and is an asylum-seeker. The time and resources to cook for such a large family are very heavy. With Inyenyeri, I can cook inside my house while having guests; there is no smoke and cooking is much faster. I have been able to reuse pellets, such as one time for cooking and for boiling water for example”, explained the refugee woman whom the delegation visited at home.

We would like to focus the support to refugees on projects that will encourage their path to self-reliance; the clean energy project in Kigeme is one of them” expressed, Mr. Ahmed Baba Fall, the UNHCR Representative to Rwanda. “The new Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework means that we want to see refugee children studying in the same schools as nationals, refugees and host community going to same hospitals and access the same treatments, refugees working together with the host community. The support to come will focus on strengthening your activities in this regard” he further emphasized.

Located in Nyamagabe District in the Southern Province of Rwanda, Kigeme refugee camp, home to nearly 20,500 refugees, was opened in mid-2012 after a sudden influx of over 35,000 refugees from the DRC.