Humanitarian action and emergencies

UNICEF reaches out to children in greatest need and at greatest risk in Rwanda.

Two Burundian refugee boys survey Mahama Camp from atop a mound of dirt.
UNICEF/UN0300385/Bannon

The Challenge

Rwanda hosts over 150,000 refugees and asylum-seekers from two countries.

In April 2015, Burundians fled their country for Rwanda following a political crisis and subsequent civil unrest. Currently, Rwanda hosts 69,000 Burundian refugees in Mahama Camp. Over 50 per cent of these refugees are children.

Children are the most vulnerable in a crisis and therefore the most affected. Over 4,000 are out of school, over 2,000 arrived unaccompanied or separated from their parents, and they often suffer from chronic diseases due to lack of nutrition and basic health care. The influx of refugees has resulted in overcrowding and limited access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation and hygiene, increasing the likelihood of disease outbreaks. Women and children in transit are often also victims of sexual- or gender-based violence, causing additional psychological distress.

Five camps for refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) were established in 1996, 1997, 2005, 2012 and 2014. The United Nations Refugee Agency - UNHCR - took full responsibility for these camps in 2012. There are currently about 76,200 Congolese refugees in Rwanda, as well as 5,200 asylum-seekers.

Ebola has been confirmed high risk in Rwanda.

On 1 August 2018, an outbreak of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) was officially declared in the North Kivu and Ituri Provinces in north-eastern DRC, close to Rwanda. More than 2,200 people have been infected with the Ebola virus and more than 1,500 people have died so far, most of them women and children. Although Rwanda remains free of Ebola, there are 15 districts at risk of cross-border spread by land or air.  

Read more about the Ebola outbreak in DRC.

The Government of Rwanda immediately activated Ebola preparedness interventions in 2018 to minimize the risk of importation or cross-border transmission. UNICEF supports the Government in several important areas to help prevent Ebola from entering Rwanda:

  • Preparedness and simulation exercises
  • Pre-positioning of supplies
  • Risk communication and community engagement
  • Training of district and health workers 

UNICEF is also a member of regular Technical Working Group meetings and adheres to the Government's Risk Communication and Community Engagement Strategy.

Burundian refugees line up to receive vaccines against measles and polio. UNICEF provides these vaccines, along with Vitamin A supplements to fight malnutrition, to all children in Mahama Camp.
UNICEF/UN0300441/Bannon
Burundian refugees line up to receive vaccines against measles and polio. UNICEF provides these vaccines, along with Vitamin A supplements to fight malnutrition, to children under five in Mahama Camp.

The Solution

Helping refugees

The Ministry of Emergency Management and UNHCR coordinate the refugee response in Rwanda. However, UNICEF intervenes in water, sanitation and hygiene; education; early childhood development; child protection; health; and nutrition for Burundian refugees living in Mahama Camp. 

UNICEF's humanitarian strategy with the Government and other partners is to provide comprehensive services to refugees and seek fulfilment of their basic rights. This includes registration, shelter, household equipment, food and water, maintaining sanitation and hygiene, health and nutrition services, education, and protection.

In health, UNICEF helps provide essential vaccines for all children under five in Mahama. These vaccines include BCG, Polio, DTC, Hepatitis B, Haemophilus Influenza B, Rotavirus, Pneumococcal Conjugate and Measles/Rubella. Pregnant women are also provided with the Tetanus Toxoid vaccine.

In nutrition, UNICEF helps supply ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) to treat severe acute malnutrition, and micronutrient powders to fight anaemia in pregnant women and other vitamin deficiencies in children. 

In early childhood development, UNICEF is constructing early learning and care centres for children aged 3-6 years, and trains parents and caregivers on how to provide appropriate and stimulating child care at home. Nearly 6,500 children are being reached by these services. 

Link to video on it's hosted site.
UNICEF/UN0318973/Rudakubana
Mahama Camp is home to over 60,000 Burundian refugees. Over half of the camp population is children under 18, who have often experienced deep psychological trauma and lack a place to have fun and let loose. UNICEF recently completed a brand new playground for children in Mahama, so they can run, jump, play and climb to their heart's content.

In education, UNICEF helps integrate Burundian refugee children into Rwandan schools, helping them participate in Rwanda's national education system. UNICEF has also provided scholastic materials - such as backpacks and notebooks - and equipped nearby schools with computers and other ICT equipment to improve the quality of education. 

In child protection, UNICEF helps reunite unaccompanied and separated children with their families. UNICEF also helps train case workers who monitor cases of sexual- and gender-based violence, as well as facilitators who manage the child-friendly spaces, where children can play, learn, and simply be a child to relieve some of the trauma associated with their migration. Over 7,500 children and youth use these spaces on a weekly basis.

Preventing Ebola

UNICEF supports the Government of Rwanda in Ebola preparedness, simulation exercises, pre-positioning of supplies, risk communication and community engagement, and in training health centre staff, community health workers, and district hospitals. This training focuses on Ebola watchfulness in communities, risk communication on signs and symptoms, and prevention, including promoting handwashing with soap.  

UNICEF has helped the Government take several important actions to prevent Ebola by:

  • Placing an infection prevention and control consultant in the Ministry of Health
  • Constructing an Ebola Treatment Centre
  • Procuring supplies like soap, chlorine, handwashing stations and water tablets
  • Training district and national staff on Ebola prevention
  • Conducting a knowledge, attitudes and practices survey on Ebola preparedness
  • Disseminating behaviour change messages through print materials and radio spots, as well as through community gathering platforms and home visitations
  • Developing awareness messages for social workers and child protection frontline workers

In the event of an Ebola outbreak in Rwanda, UNICEF would recommend that all early childhood development centres would be closed. UNICEF continues to attend regular Technical Working Group meetings on Ebola prevention with the Government. 

Link to video on it's hosted site.
UNICEF/UN0318975/Kanobana
Nearly 2,000 cases of Ebola have been reported in the eastern Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, which lies on the border of northwestern Rwanda. Hundreds of people cross this border each day for trade and business. UNICEF is committed to preventing Ebola from crossing the border into Rwanda, educating people on how to recognise and stop the spread of the disease. Partnering with local radio stations in Rubavu, UNICEF spreads daily messages on Ebola prevention and treatment in crowded markets and bus parks, reaching thousands of Congolese and Rwandans each day.