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Rwanda to allow refugees to work to reduce donor dependency

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Rwanda's government has adopted a policy that enables refugees to work for a living as donor funding to support those in refugee camps reduces.

According to officials from the Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs (MIDIMAR), the policy seeks to, among other goals, address a 10 per cent reduction in resources for feeding camp-based refugees. The officials said the policy would also help ease pressure on Rwanda as a host country.

“Last year in New York, we adopted the Complementary Refugee Response Framework (CRRF), where we are working with the private sector and international financial institutions to reduce pressure on host countries by building the self-reliance of refugees,” said Ahmed Baba Fall, the UNHCR head in Rwanda.

Director for Refugee Affairs at MIDIMAR, Jean Claude Rwahama, said that together with the World Food Programme and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, they are looking at how to train refugees and help them form co-operatives to enable them to take part in income-generating activities.

“The training, which is expected to start soon, will equip refugees with the skills to manage small income-generating activities and grow them into businesses that can benefit the country,” said Mr Rwahama.

Main challenge

The government is already working the German Development Agency to mobilise capital for the refugees.

Mr Rwahama said the main challenge to implementing the policy would be finding land for those refugees who are interested in agriculture. He said emphasis would be put on economic activities like making handicrafts.

“In camps like Mahama, refugees have started weaving baskets and other items and we are working on finding markets for their products. If it works, the model will be introduced in other refugee camps in a bid to wean them off dependency on donor funds,” Mr Rwahama said.

Unlike Uganda where refugees are settled in communities where they have access to land and other social services, those in Rwanda still live in camps and are currently not allowed to engage in economic activities.

During a recent visit to Gihembe, a camp housing 14,000 refugees who fled conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, camp residents said life has become more difficult after monthly cash grants were reduced from Rwf7,500 ($8) to Rwf6,800 ($7).

Mobilising funding

The UNHCR’s Rwanda office and the government are also mobilising funding from development partners to support the integration of refugees into the local economy.

Mr Baba said they have been lobbying diplomatic missions accredited to Rwanda in search of support and so far Belgium had responded positively. It donated $1,8 million for food support for more than 128,000 Burundian and Congolese refugees in Rwanda.

Belgium’s ambassador to Rwanda, Benoit Ryelandt, said they are treating food assistance to refugees as a priority. “We call on the rest of the diplomatic corps to do the same and more importantly, for the respective agencies to chart a sustainable structure that will respond to shortages in a sustainabe way,” he said.

Rwanda currently hosts 163,000 refugees in six camps. Of these, 128,000 people are camp-based and are entirely dependent on humanitarian assistance.