Monday, 17 August 2015

Gihembe Refugee Camp

A lovely picture of my colleague. Truly going to miss hanging out with my exceptional team. 

Today we took a drive up North to visit Gihembe Refugee Camp. Through floodplains of rice paddies.

It was really touch and go as to whether we'd be allowed in, due to another impromptu public holiday. Thankfully MIDIMAR gave us the green light the day before. 

Like Kiziba, it's high in the hills, but unlike Kiziba it's really close to a town, so there's much greater integration between refugees and local Rwandans. There was an interesting discussion here and at the US State Department about food rations. In Kiziba, refugees get an allotted amount of maize each month. They've been eating the same food for five years with little variation. In Gihembe, the refugees get a cash payout (30c/20p per day) which they can use to buy what they need locally. This leads to greater diversity of diet, though still malnutrition in many cases as it's a very small amount - less than $9 per month. The refugees at Kiziba want to change to this system, but because Kiziba is so remote, there are fewer suppliers of goods in the area. Doing so would lead to hyperinflation, where local shops could charge what they like as demand outstrips supply. A complicated issue.

Doubly complicated when you realise the food money is often coming from INGOs like World Food Program, which is then creating an economy in Rwanda that wouldn't exist if the refugees didn't. Arguably a persuasive reason not to close the camps. Although there are many other reasons.

We ran a human rights workshop. Started by exploring a common definition of human rights between international (mostly US), local (Rwandan) and refugee (Congolese) participants. We then chose five main points to discuss whether these human rights are being fully met, partly met, or not met at all. The five areas we looked at were: food provision, freedom of movement, health care, education and equal access to work.

It was truly fascinating when we came to compare responses. 

Completely independently, both the local Rwandan and international participants had come up with the same categorisations. They felt their human rights were fully met on freedom of movement and access to basic education, partly met on food and health care, and not met on equal access to employment, with nepotism and unemployment stated as big problems in both Rwanda and the US.

In contrast, the refugee youth explained that none of their rights were fully met, access to food, freedom of movement, health care (Kiziba has one doctor for 17,000 people working three days a week, Gihembe has one doctor full time for 14,000 people) and education (refugees are only entitled to nine years of basic education when the national minimum is twelve) were only partly met, with equal access to work not met at all, as you cannot apply to work in Rwanda on a refugee ID - you will always lose out to a Rwandan, as there is high unemployment nationally.

It was a really interesting exercise. 

We then went on a tour of the camp with our hosts - half to the health care centre and half to the school. I went to the school at Kiziba, so went to the hospital this time, but due to the public holiday there wasn't anyone around to talk to. It was still very interesting.

UNHCR Trucks

As with Kiziba, and unlike Mugunga, refugees live in permanent housing. This can be really deceptive. When you see Mugunga - families living in small tents - you know people are in a bad way. But when you see settlements of houses, it's easy to assume the refugees don't face the same problems. It's certainly true life in Rwanda is better than in DRC for Congolese refugees, but, as our exercise showed, there are still a lot of problems.

We gathered back at the hall for lunch. A difficult experience for participants, as hungry children gathered at the windows and doors to watch us eat our feast.

This time we were very lucky to have two UNHCR representatives come to talk with us and answer questions. I bash the UN quite a bit over Mugunga and not turning up to speak with youth at Kiziba. But the reps were very honest with us and it was interesting to hear about the situation from their perspective. 'Of course we would like more of everything,' they said 'more food, more money, more staff.' They also drew our attention to the role of the host country in providing for refugees. As one participant said 'it's easy to believe the UN are responsible for everything that goes on with refugees around the world, you forget about the host country.'

After that it was back to Kigali. I popped by Bamboo to book our table for the closing event, and caught a gorgeous sunset.

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