Safe from the Start: Burundian refugee women and girls welcome the construction of an “Opportunity Center” in Mahama camp to combat gender-based violence

Opportunity Centre: Women and girls in Mahama camp look forward to having a safe place to share their experiences and to support one another.

Rwanda’s newest and now largest refugee camp, Mahama, has become a tightknit but enormous community composed of more than 50,000 Burundian refugees. Refugee women and girls make up half of the camp population and are unfortunately exposed to risks of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). SGBV is a consequence of conflict and refugee camps can become a threat as many vulnerable people must live in a small shared space. Incidents can often go unaddressed due to cultural views that silence its victims.

Thanks to the Safe from the Start project, funded from the U.S. Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (BPRM), refugee women and girls are having an Opportunity Centre constructed for them in order to make their protection more efficient.

Josephine Ngebeh, a UNHCR Senior Protection Officer specializing in SGBV in Mahama camp, says one of the most critical issues in the camp is the lack of a safe space for women and girls. “When I first arrived to Mahama, I met the refugee representative for social affairs and she told me that the biggest need for refugee women is to have a place to meet, discuss issues that affect them in the camp and showcase their skills,” Josephine says.


UNHCR Staff and other partner organisations staff join women refugees to construct the Opportunity Center. Photo: UNHCR Kirehe FO

Women and girls in Mahama camp strongly welcome the construction of the Opportunity Centre and look forward to having a safe place to share their experiences and to support one another. “We are delighted and thankful to UNHCR for prioritizing the creation of a safe space for us. We now have a space to carry out our activities and plan for our futures, which will minimize the negative coping mechanisms survivors usually turn to,” says Jacqueline Murorunkwere, the social affairs representative for refugees in Mahama.

The Opportunity Centre will host different activities such as soap manufacturing, weaving and tailoring, it will offer a computer room to connect to other women around the world, and it will also provide counselling rooms and offices for the committee members.

“Female refugees in particular face difficult conditions in Mahama camp and can become survivors of gender-based violence. This Centre will provide them counselling and teachings about sexual and gender based violence. We anticipate that sexual abuse and gender based violence cases will be reduced accordingly,” Jacqueline says confidently.

Josephine Ngebeh and Paul Kenya contributed reporting from Mahama – Kirehe, Rwanda