Meeting Refugees’ Basic Needs


As part of its mandate, UNHCR is responsible for ensuring that refugees can access education while they are living in a country of asylum. In Rwanda, UNHCR is committed to ensuring that all refugee children and youth access their fundamental right to basic education, whether they are living in one of five refugee camps, or in urban areas.

The Government of Rwanda, through a progressive and inclusive protection framework, supports the inclusion of refugees in the national system, including education. Access to inclusive and equitable education for all has been reinforced by the Government’s pledges at the Global Refugee Forum (GRF) in December 2019, which aims to enhance the capacity, quality, and inclusiveness of national education system where refugee and host community children, adolescents, and youth access education on equal footing. The Rwandan school system also recognizes the previous educational achievements of refugees.

Based on this, UNHCR’s education response programme in Rwanda aims to complement government efforts to achieve its commitment on refugee inclusion in the national education system.

UNHCR contributes to the improvement of the learning environment activities such as construction of classrooms to help decongest overcrowded classrooms, supporting digital education, provision of scholastic materials, school uniforms, and school-feeding, teacher training, ensuring education for children with special needs and disabilities, advocating for higher education including technical and vocational training, and providing scholarships for university.

Currently, about 39% of refugees and asylum seekers UNHCR are school-aged (3-17 years) children. The enrolment ratio at pre-primary, primary and secondary education is 55%, 94% and 43% respectively. An estimated 4% of the refugee youths are enrolled in higher education. Majority of the refugee children are enrolled in 15 major schools located in or close to refugee camps. However, over 2,500 children and youths from refugee camps are enrolled in various schools of excellence and learning institution across the country.

Access to clean water and sanitation and hygiene

Under international humanitarian standards, refugees should receive a minimum of 15 litres of clean water per person per day in an emergency, or 20 litres per day in more established refugee camps. These standards reflect the minimum amount required to ensure that refugees enjoy satisfactory conditions of health, sanitation and hygiene. In Rwanda, refugee water consumption in camps currently averages 19 liters per day.

In Rwanda, UNHCR collaborates with partners to provide refugees with water through various means including the sourcing and trucking of water into refugee camps, establishing boreholes as well as utilizing the national water system.  Maintenance of water systems and construction of infrastructure is also designed to support Rwandan host communities surrounding the camps. As with all UNHCR activities, adaptability and innovation are key when developing water and sanitation solutions.

Shelter & Infrastructure

UNHCR provides and maintains shelter and communal infrastructures for all refugees living in camps in Rwanda. UNHCR also ensures that camps are well-planned with access roads, drainage systems, and communal spaces such as markets and community halls to support protection, basic needs services, and environmental protection.

The majority of refugee homes in refugee camps in Rwanda are classified as semi-permanent houses made out of mud-brick walling with iron sheet roofing.  UNHCR undertakes continuous rehabilitation, repair or reconstruction of old shelters in the camp to maintain good living conditions for the refugee population. Due to constant environmental degradations, including landslides and giant ravines caused by soil erosion and lack of proper water channels in the camps, some refugee families in high-risk zones have been relocated into new shelters or other camps to ensure their safety.

Cash assistance

Refugees in all camps receive cash for food from the World Food Program (WFP). Food assistance is provided through a targeting criterion set out in May 2021. The program targets refugees in camps based on vulnerability categories. The most vulnerable (87% of refugees) receive the full amount of food assistance.  Individuals in the moderately vulnerable category (6% of refugees) receive 50% of the food assistance value, and least vulnerable (7% of refugees) do not receive any food assistance.

In terms of non-food items assistance, UNHCR provides the cash equivalent of essential items such as soaps, blankets, jerry cans, kitchen sets, sanitary pads, sleeping items on a quarterly basis. The amount of money individual families receive depends on the targeting criteria also used for food assistance.

Health and Nutrition

UNHCR Rwanda works to ensure that all refugees have access to life-saving and essential health care, reproductive health care, HIV prevention and treatment and nutritional well-being.

The Government of Rwanda has generously adopted a policy of inclusion of refugees into the national health system for refugees. As such, wherever possible UNHCR builds capacity of national institutions to enable refugees to make use of existing facilities. Where this is not feasible, UNHCR has established primary health-care clinics in refugee camps, which can also be accessed by surrounding host communities. If secondary or tertiary healthcare is needed, UNHCR and partners facilitate the referral and pay for the treatment of refugees in national hospitals.

In order to treat and combat malnutrition, UNHCR has established systematic nutrition screening in coordination with partners. Malnutrition screening and nutritional support is available in all refugee camps and transit centers. In addition, UNHCR and partners roll-out regular vaccination campaigns for refugee populations. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, UNHCR helped around 67% of refugees living in camps to receive their COVID-19 vaccine

In July 2021, the Ministry in charge of Emergency Management (MINEMA), the Rwanda Social Security Board (RSSB), and UNHCR extended the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the inclusion of urban refugees and refugee students in boarding schools in the Community Based Health Insurance (CBHI) plan. In 2022, the enrolment rate had reached 96%. As part of CBHI, refugees can access national health services and hospitals paying just ten percent of the cost of their treatment.

Access to Energy

In order to complement cash assistance provided for food by WFP, UNHCR works with our key Government counterpart MINEMA to ensure that refugees have access to cooking energy, such as Liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and renewable biomass (pellets / briquettes), so that families can cook their own meals. This also prevents refugee communities from resorting to firewood and contributing to deforestation.

UNHCR’s longer-term energy strategy also involves the procurement and distribution of advanced cooking technologies in the form of fuel-efficient stoves, in order to reduce and eliminate the consumption of firewood by the refugee population and reduce the impact on the environment. To date, clean cooking energy is accessible to more than half of all refugee households.