Camps in Rwanda hosting thousands of refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are running out of space following an influx of people fleeing insecurity in eastern DRC, says a senior government official.
“Since we have an obligation to accommodate new arrivals, there is a need to find alternative solutions since the existing camps have been declared full,” Séraphine Mukantabana, the Rwandan Minister of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs, told IRIN.
“As [the] government, we have an obligation to ensure that they [Congolese refugees] are in safe places, but the only challenge is the means that will be involved in relocating local residents living in these neighbouring areas as a way to expand these new camps,” she said.
Rwanda is hosting thousands of Congolese refugees in five sites in Gihembe, Kigeme, Kiziba, Nkamira and Nyabiheke.
At least 25,000 Congolese entered Rwanda from eastern DRC in 2012, according to the Rwandan government. The influx added to the approximately 43,000 refugees - mainly Congolese - already in the country.
The ministry noted that there are some refugees willing to be relocated to other places in Rwanda due to security concerns.
“However, the majority among them ha[ve] opted to remain in a transit camp [in] Nkamira, located near the border with DR Congo, exploring the opportunity to return home as the security situation in their home villages is gradually returning to normal,” Mukantabana said.
The Nkamira camp, in northwestern Rwanda, close to the DRC border, is hosting around 8,300 Congolese refugees, among them combatants who fled recent fighting between two factions of the M23 militia in eastern DRC. On 15 March, the Rwandan government reported a new influx of Congolese refugees.
There have been challenges meeting the food needs of the Congolese refugees in Rwanda.
On 5 March, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) launched an appeal for an extra US$69.6 million “to help hundreds of thousands of forcibly displaced Congolese civilians in the volatile Great Lakes region this year”. Part of the extra funds - some $17.7 million - is intended for Rwanda.
"Our plans for Rwanda centre on the Kigeme refugee camp, which was reopened and expanded last year and will soon reach its capacity of 25,000. Facilities need to be developed and homes repaired, and we aim to strengthen the local and health services to cater for the refugee population," said UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards.
According to UNHCR, the security situation in DRC limits the refugees' prospects for return.