UNHCR’s Presence in Rwanda

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Kigali Province

BRANCH OFFICE KIGALI (Kigali City): UNHCR Rwanda’s Branch Office coordinates all operations for nearly 150,000 refugees across six refugee camps, two transit centers, and two reception centers spread throughout the country. In addition to camp-based refugees, UNHCR’s Kigali Office also assists over 25,000 urban refugees from various nationalities, including nearly 23,400 Burundian urban refugees who arrived during the recent sudden emergency influx.

Congolese refugee locations

Northern Province

GIHEMBE Camp (Gicumbi District): Located in Gicumbi District in the Northern Province of Rwanda, Gihembe refugee camp was established in December 1997 to host survivors of the Mudende massacre. Mudende was a refugee camp in western Rwanda hosting Congolese refugees from eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In August and again in December of 1997, armed groups crossed the border from DRC and attacked the camp – murdering hundreds of refugees. Today, 99% of the refugees in Gihembe are survivors of this massacre.

As of January 2014, a pilot cash and voucher initiative was launched to replace general food distribution in Gihembe. Refugees are now able to pay through their mobile phones (mVisa) through a monthly allowance, giving families much more independence to make their own choices and diversify their diets according to their individual needs and preferences. The program also fosters greater integration of refugees into host communities near the camp, by linking refugees socio-economically into the local market. Nearly 100,000,000RWF (USD $143,000) is disbursed per month to some 14,500 refugees. Although cash was introduced to replace in-kind food distribution, WFP continues to provide support in other sectors such as nutrition for malnourished children and pregnant women, and school feeding for to students attending schools.

Eastern Province

NYABIHEKE Camp (Gatsibo District): Established in 2005, Nyabiheke camp, located in Gatsibo District in Eastern Province, is home to nearly 15,000 refugees who are primarily from the North Kivu and South Kivu provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Originally hosting Congolese refugees who fled to Rwanda in the early 2000s, Nyabiheke was expanded in 2013 in order to accommodate several thousand additional Congolese refugees, who arrived in 2012-2013 during renewed fighting in eastern DRC which caused a large-scale emergency refugee influx. Due to persistent insecurity and fear of ethnic persecution, return to DRC is unlikely for Congolese refugees so there is a large-scale resettlement programme in Nyabiheke, which supports vulnerable refugees without a prospect for return home to be resettled in third countries such as the United States of America.

Southern Province

KIGEME Camp (Nyamagabe District): In 2012-2013, Rwanda received a sudden influx of over 35,000 refugees from the eastern DRC, fleeing fighting between Government forces (FARDC) and rebel militias. As a result, UNHCR and MIDIMAR opened Kigeme camp in Nyamagabe District, Southern Province, in mid-2012. Today, Kigeme is home to over 18,000 of these newly-arrived Congolese refugees.

MUGOMBWA Camp (Gisagara District:) In addition to the opening of Kigeme camp to host the newly arrived Congolese refugees who fled during the 2012-2013 emergency, Mugombwa camp, also in the Southern Province, was established in early 2014. UNHCR began relocating refugees in mid-February 2014 from crowded transit centres to Mugombwa camp. Today, the camp is home to over 8,200 refugees.

Western Province

KIZIBA Camp (Karongi District): Kiziba Camp was opened in December 1996, after the start of civil war in neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The camp was established in order to help cope with the influx of tens of thousands of refugees. Some of the refugees have since returned to their homes in eastern DRC, but about 17,000 remain at the remote hilltop camp located in the Karongi District of Western Province. Kiziba is Rwanda’s oldest existing refugee camp.

Burundian refugee locations

Eastern Province

MAHAMA Camp (Kirehe District): Mahama camp is UNHCR’s newest camp in Rwanda, and in only four months since opening has become the country’s largest camp – hosting over 43,500 refugees as of mid-2015. After an initial rapid assessment of the Mahama site, allocated by the Government of Rwanda, UNHCR and partners were quick to map out the site, develop a site plan, and mobilize staff to erect tents and hangars, temporary WASH and health facilities, to begin accommodating thousands of refugees streaming over the border from Burundi. The Government of Rwanda has recently allocated an additional 50 hectares for a total of 100 hectares to accommodate the large number of Burundian refugees. Now that the refugee influx has stabilized, UNHCR is working to transition from emergency facilities to more durable shelters and services.

BUGESERA Reception Center (Bugesera District): Immediately after the first Burundian refugees began arriving in Rwanda in early April 2015, UNHCR and MIDIMAR established Bugesera Reception center in order to initially receive, register and provide temporary assistance to those fleeing. In addition to being registered as refugees, UNHCR mobilized its partners to provide essential items, conduct health and malnutrition screening, and to vaccinate children against measles and polio, before they are relocated by UNHCR to Mahama camp.

Southern Province

Nyanza Reception Center (Nyanza District): Immediately after the first Burundian refugees began arriving in Rwanda in early April 2015, UNHCR and MIDIMAR established Nyanza Reception center in order to initially receive, register and provide temporary assistance to those fleeing. In addition to being registered as refugees, UNHCR mobilized its partners to provide essential items, conduct health and malnutrition screening, and to vaccinate children against measles and polio, before they are relocated by UNHCR to Mahama camp.

Rwandan returnee locations

NYAGATARE (Rusizi District) and NKAMIRA (Rubavu District) Transit Centers: Nyagatare Transit Centre, located in the Western Province close to the DRC-Bukavu border, was established in 1994 to assist those fleeing conflict in the region. Nkamira, located in Rubavu District close to the DRC-Goma border, was initially established in 1995 as a transitory accommodation site for Rwandans returning home after living as refugees in other countries. Both Transit Centres are continuously used today as temporary reception centers for newly arrived refugees awaiting transfers to the camps, as well as by Rwandan returnees who are accommodated there, registered, and provided with basic assistance before they are transported by UNHCR to their districts of origin, where they are assisted to reintegrate and rebuild their lives.