UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection and the Princess of Jordan visit Rwanda to discuss refugee issues

The UN Assistant High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr. Volker Türk and Her Royal Highness Princess Sarah Zeid of Jordan in Rwanda for high-level Government meetings and visits to refugees from 23-27 October 2016. They visited Gihembe camp and Mahama camp.

Rwanda – The United Nations Assistant High Commissioner for Refugees (Protection), Mr. Volker Türk, accompanied by Her Royal Highness Princess Sarah Zeid of Jordan, met Congolese refugees living in Gihembe camp and Burundian refugees in Mahama camp during a four-day official mission in Rwanda, from 23-27 October 2016. During his visit Mr. Türk also met with the Right Honorable Prime Minister Anastase Murekezi, and attended a High Level consultation with the Government of Rwanda and UNHCR.

During the two camp visits, which were accompanied by Hon. Seraphine Mukantabana, Minister of Refugee Affairs and Princess Sarah, the Assistant High Commissioner expressed appreciation for the generosity and hospitality of the people of Rwanda and the Government for hosting refugees, and also commended the hard work that UNHCR field staff are doing to help protect and assist them.

“It is extremely important to see a camp like this – how refugees are hosted, how they are trying to get on with their lives despite the plight that they fled; but also to see that among them there is a climate of hope. They want to be just people like us, they want to have a normal life, and that is our task at UNHCR,” said Mr. Türk in Mahama refugee camp.

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Mr. Volker Türk, UN Assistant High Commissioner for Refugees, talk to young Burundian refugees in Mahama refugee camp. [Photo/ UNHCR – Eugene Sibomana]

Established by UNHCR and MIDIMAR in April 2015, Mahama camp has been open for one year and a half–in which it already became the largest refugee camp in Rwanda, home to over 50,000 Burundian refugees. Mr. Türk said that since refugee situations worldwide are becoming increasingly more prolonged, host communities are in need of dedicated assistance.

“During the visit to Mahama camp, I was able to meet and speak with Burundian refugees, particularly women and unaccompanied minors,” said Mr. Türk. “Many of the refugees are still deeply disturbed by their experience of flight, and they are extremely grateful to the Rwandan Government for the generous provision of shelter, safety and protection.”

After several sunny, dusty hours in the camp, Her Royal Highness Princess Sarah was particularly motivated by the transition in the camp from emergency shelter (tents and plastic sheeting) to semi-permanent shelters in mud bricks, as well as by livelihood projects that are helping refugee women to improve their families’ self-reliance.

“It is fantastic to see the progress of this camp and the move towards more stable structures where refugees are provided better shelter and the way they are organized around facilities,” said Her Royal Highness. “It is also exciting to see the livelihood projects, women who are weaving the most beautiful things which allow them to have dignity.”

Refugees in both Mahama and Gihembe camps welcomed the high-profile visits, which they saw as an indication that the world has not forgotten about the situation of refugees in Rwanda. Alex Murengerantwali, 29, fled Burundi with his wife and two daughters. He said that UNHCR and MIDIMAR [Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs] do their best to provide a better life to refugees.“This visit menas a lot for me and other refugees hosted here in Mahama. We see these people as our parents—they provide us all basic needs: from food to shelter, clothes, and healthcare facilities – everything. When we see them entering our houses, we feel like we exist again,” he said.

Rwanda hosts more than 165,000 refugees. The majority are from Burundi (more than 79,000) and DR Congo (around 83,000) living in six refugee camps and four transit centres across the country as well as in urban areas. UNHCR, which co-leads the interagency response for refugees with MIDIMAR, has the responsibility to ensure protection of refugees and to find durable solutions for refugee situations. It also provides multisectoral assistance for refugees in camps in Rwanda, meeting all refugees’ basic needs with the exception of food which is provided by the World Food Program. UNHCR also provides initial support to thousands of Rwandan refugees returning home after years living in asylum in other countries.

Eugene Sibomana

Communications/PI Associate, UNHCR                            

E-mail: [email protected]