Thousands have fled home in search of a safe place and food, due to a deterioration of security situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo(DRC). Some were hurt and others lost their family and friends.
They reach Nkamira transit camp near the border of eastern DRC. There, the refugees are moved to one of the five camps: Nyabiheke, Gihembe, Kiziba, Kigeme, and Mugombwa. Mugombwa located near Kigeme camp is the youngest camp which was built to accommodate thousands of new influx of Congolese refugees in 2012 and 2013 due to a result of continuous violence and instability in home country.
The total number of refugees in Rwanda is 73,349, as of January 2014. Many of their nationality are Congolese, though they live without the provision of protection from their government, which makes their nationality ineffective. Rwanda is hosting all these refugees by the principle of non-foulement, the principle of not sending victims back to their country when it threatens their lives and stability.
When these de facto stateless people have nowhere to go, refugee camp offers food, place to safely sleep, and medical help which are all basic human needs. Several different organisations are working together in their areas of expertise, such as food procurement, nutrition, education, and health.
KIGEME CAMP, Nyamagabe, Rwanda – Meet Kigeme camp, the second youngest camp built in 2012, housing around 18,400 refugees, 4,000 households mainly from the DRC. Operational body, Government of Rwanda(Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs), UNHCR, WFP, and implementing NGOs such as Adventist Development and Relief Agency(ADRA), Africa Humanitarian Action(AHA), American Refugee Committee, and Parlement des Jeunes Rwandais are all working together in their expertise area. AHA is in charge of nutrition programme and ADRA manages school feeding and general food distribution with WFP.
The food distribution happens only once a month. Depending on the camp the completion of distribution process varies. In Kigeme, the whole process takes up to 8 days, which means following the exact cycle of distribution to households is very important so that no household has to wait a month and additional 8 days to get food. Everyone gets the same food with the same amount except for people with special needs, such as children under 2, pregnant and lactating mothers, malnourished children under 5, and HIV/AIDS patients on ART.
The lives of refugees are limited. Without any piece of land to cultivate to generate income, they have no choice but to rely on in-kind aid from government and outside helps. 7th of August 3 o’clock in the afternoon, a monthly clothing delivery seemed to be almost at its end and the tent divided into 5 screens made of wood and plastic was not so busy anymore. A lady was standing in front of the wall holding armful of clothes she received, while confused with small red shorts in one hand. There was to be a food distribution the day after in the same place. One side of the tent will be stacked with bags of cereals, pulses, salt, and cooking oil jerry cans. The other side will stand people queuing for food which will allay their hunger for a month. The food is not only for nutrition but can be used as a currency to buy other items within the camp. The amount of food a person gets per day is, cereals 410g, pulses 120g, oil 30g, and salt 5g. One of the members of household would come with a document of proof of registration which states their refugee status and the number of household members. The food distribution committee will constantly check if there is any change in household members in order to balance the amount of food coming into the camp. The committee comes from the refugee population and the members also coordinate food-related issues in the camp such as changes in household members, claims regarding food receiving, and holding meetings monthly for a general check-up and more efficient delivery.
On the way out, children were making a usual scene which non-African foreigners might have at least once experienced in rural Africa; being surrounded. Right in front of me was a boy presumably half-blinded smiling at us. From afar, adults sitting on the edge of bricks around a tree, were also looking at the scene around muzungu(meaning white person but customarily non-African foreigner). Some were with crutches. What was fascinating and odd at the same time was that they looked ‘excited’ to see muzungu. Given that they must have gone through the suffering of the war and sometimes of losing dear ones, it is ironic that they are pretty much entertained only by seeing ‘different species’. I was told that very few of the refugees get to graduate the camp and live a different life, unless they go back to their land when the war ends. I have read a success story of a guy who used to live in a refugee camp. It probably gave hope to people that those refugees can be ‘normalised’ by the help of organisations and himself. I was almost obsessed with learning about rehabilitation activities and such as a part of the site visit preparation. What gave me frustration was the fact that these people might be too busy to think about the potential and the future. Planning years ahead may be a bit of luxury for them. What I saw from the people was not ‘how to live’, it was ‘to live’. Perhaps the day of visit was a reminder asking me if I am working to do or working to work.
#Kigeme refugee camp, DRC refugees in Rwanda, UNHCR