Refugees Camp Out at UN Office in Rwanda, Demand Better Conditions

Three thousand to 4,000 Congolese refugees were camped out Wednesday in front of a U.N. office in western Rwanda, demanding better living conditions at their camp.

The refugees refused to go after marching out of the Kiziba camp on Tuesday and protesting in front of the office of UNHCR, the U.N. refugee agency, in the Karongi district.

The army used live ammunition to break up the protest. The protesters said soldiers shot at them and wounded at least two people.

Rwanda has launched an investigation into what sparked the protest.

In a statement, Jean Claude Rwahama, director of refugee affairs in the Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs, said "refugee representatives have been meeting camp management, local authorities, as well as U.N. partner agencies to discuss the cause of Tuesday's incident."

Rwandan officials blamed the refugees for provoking the violence.

"It is unfortunate that some refugees resorted to violence even as local authorities and security personnel were working to find a solution to their grievances," said Rwahama.

Earlier Wednesday, a UNHCR official told refugees there was nothing the agency could do for them unless they returned to the camp. He said the issue was now in the hands of the government.

'We are being abandoned'

Louis Maombi, president of the Congolese refugees committee in Kiziba, told VOA that they were surprised by the change of tone from UNHCR.

"We were promised a meeting with both UNHCR and Rwanda government officials. Now it looks like we are being abandoned," said Maombi.

Refugees said they would not leave until their issues were resolved.

The protests followed a decision of the World Food Program to reduce food assistance to the refugees by 25 percent because of a funding shortage.

The government statement said all refugees hosted in Rwanda were affected by this decision.

"We are mindful of the rights of refugees but also caution that they must respect the laws of the host country. Police will therefore carry out thorough investigations into this incident, to establish responsibility and ensure it doesn't reoccur," the statement said.

The refugees are demanding to be resettled in another country. If that does not happen, they say, they will walk back into the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The Kiziba refugee camp is one of the oldest in Rwanda and home to about 17,000 Congolese. The camp was opened in 1996 to host Congolese who were fleeing insecurity in the eastern DRC.

Some 130,000 Congolese and Burundian refugees living in Rwanda rely on humanitarian assistance for food. They receive either monthly distributions or cash transfers from WFP so that they can buy food in local markets.

Rwanda says it is committed to ensuring the safety of refugees it hosts. "The government will continue to work with various partners, including U.N. agencies, to improve the well-being of all refugees living in Rwanda," it said.

Source: Voice of America

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