Governments normally guarantee the basic human rights and physical security of their citizens. But when people become refugees, this safety net disappears.
Refugees fleeing war or persecution are often in a very vulnerable situation. They have no protection from their own state – indeed it is often their own government that is threatening to persecute them. If other countries do not let them in, and do not protect and help them once they are in, then they may be condemning them to an intolerable situation where their basic rights, security and, in some cases their lives, are in danger.
The protection of 33.9 million uprooted or stateless people is the core mandate of UNHCR. We do this in several ways: ensuring basic human rights of refugees in their countries of asylum, protecting them from being returned involuntarily to a country where they could face persecution. Longer term, we help refugees find appropriate durable solutions to their plight, by repatriating voluntarily to their homeland, integrating in countries of asylum or resettling in third countries.
In many countries,UNHCR staff work alongside other partners in a variety of locations ranging from capital cities to remote camps and border areas. They attempt to promote or provide legal and physical protection, and minimize the threat of violence – including sexual assault – which many refugees are subject to, even in countries of asylum. They also seek to provide at least a minimum of shelter, food, water and medical care in the immediate aftermath of any refugee exodus, while taking into account the specific needs of women, children, the elderly and the disabled.
Protection of children and prevention and response to violence
Women and children make up 80% of the refugee population, and like refugee men and boys, they are at risk of incidences of violence such as physical aggression, domestic violence, rape, child abuse, neglect, and survival sex. Many cases go unreported due to social and cultural norms (e.g., the culture of silence, gender roles, patriarchy, discrimination against children, sense of impunity for perpetrators), limited knowledge on child rights, and a lack of awareness on available supportive services.
To respond to these issues, UNHCR in Rwanda partners with Plan International to respond to and prevent incidents of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and child abuse, neglect, exploitation, and violence, and to provide basic support to persons with specific needs, namely older adults and people with disabilities. UNHCR and Plan respond to child protection and SGBV incidents including through psychosocial support and referrals to health, legal and other services. UNHCR and Plan also work to prevent SGBV and child abuse by building networks of community mobilizers within the refugee community. UNHCR and Plan also work with Rwandan organization ARDHO to provide legal assistance and community-based socio-therapy.
UNHCR and Plan are also working to identify unaccompanied and separated children and persons with specific needs among refugees, in an effort to provide them with basic material support, advocate for their needs, and intervene with referrals or service provision when necessary.
UNHCR, the Government of Rwanda and the One UN have established One Stop Centers for holistic support to SGBV survivors in each district of Rwanda. These centers will by end 2015 provide free medical, psychosocial and legal assistance to all survivors of SGBV in the country, including refugees. UNHCR has also entered into an agreement with Rwanda National Police for the establishment of police posts outside each refugee camp and the agreement to develop a training curriculum for the police.
Registration is one of the most fundamental ways that UNHCR protects refugees, by ensuring that their identity is known and documented. This enables agencies providing services to refugees to know how many people need help, and allows refugees to access those services. In Rwanda, UNHCR registration includes the capture of refugee bio-data, photos and fingerprints. Registration is crucial for identifying those individuals who are at risk or have special needs. It also helps protect refugees against refoulement (forced return), arbitrary arrest and detention. Registering children helps in protection monitoring and may prevent forced recruitment and child exploitation. In addition, registration is key for helping keep families together, and assists UNHCR and partners in reuniting separated children with their families.
• Voluntary repatriation :
UNHCR supports the return of refugees only if and when conditions for return can be guaranteed to be voluntary, safe and dignified. Prospects for returning home for over 73,000 Congolese refugees, many of whom have lived in Rwanda since the mid-1990s, continue to be very limited due to on-going insecurity and conflict in the Eastern DRC. UNHCR’s Division of International Protection has issued a recommendation of non-return for all refugees from Eastern DRC. According to the results of an intention survey conducted in 2012-2013, 98% of the Congolese refugees indicated unwillingness to return to the DRC, citing concerns about insecurity and ethnic-related conflict.
Organized return of Burundian refugees who have fled election-related tensions since April 2015 is not envisioned in the near future, until it can be assured that their return is safe and voluntary. However Burundian refugees are able to return to Burundi spontaneously, at their own volition.
• Local integration prospects :
A lack of economic and professional prospects for refugees in Rwanda, linked to factors such as the high number of graduates in the country and unemployment rate, makes financial independence and self-sufficiency difficult for the vast majority of refugees in Rwanda. There is also an acute shortage of land in the country and as a result refugees are unable to access enough agricultural land to meet their needs or to become self-sufficient. Additionally, the country faces the prospect of return of thousands of Rwandans currently in exile. As such, the ability for the country to absorb the refugee population through integration and naturalization has proven both challenging and extremely limited.
• Resettlement :
For UNHCR, resettlement to third countries for those refugees who have been in Rwanda for many years is seen as the most protective and pragmatic step through which to bring an end to the protracted situation of Congolese refugees in Rwanda, over 90% of whom originate from conflict zones in the DRC. In March 2012, resettlement was entrenched within the operation as a core activity targeting the refugees in a protracted caseload. Over 46,000 refugee in Rwanda live in a protracted situation, having being in the camps for up to 17 years.
UNHCR prioritizes for resettlement persons with specific needs, including survivors of violence and torture, women and children at risk, refugees with legal and physical protection needs and unaccompanied or separated minors.
The protection strategy for UNHCR Rwanda for 2015 is to prioritize the following areas:
- Legal Protection to build and strengthen Government capacity in RSD, to ensure all refugees have Refugee ID cards, birth registration is systematic and MRCTDs are provided to those who wish to travel for legitimate reasons
- To continue to strengthen interventions in prevention and response mechanisms for Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) and Child Protection in both camp and urban settings;
- To continue pursuing resettlement with a new multi-year target of 7,000 submission for 2016-2017.