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Providing Support and Protection to Refugees from the DRC in Rwanda

UNICEF Rwanda/2012/Yasmine
© UNICEF Rwanda/2012/Yasmine
More than half of the refugee population at the Nkamira Transit Site are children.

by Shamima Yasmine

Gisenyi, Rwanda, 15 May 2012 - Just a few metres from Africa’s Great Lake Kivu, hundreds of women and children wait patiently to board a UNHCR truck. They are waiting to be transported to the Nkamira Transit Centre, where they hope they will find “shelter, food and peace”. “We are refugees, we have left our homes in the Congo to come here to Rwanda, a peaceful country” says Ange, 25, as she helps one of her three children onto the truck. “We have nothing, just what we can carry, we have ran because we are scared” she continues. 

Ange and her children are just one, amongst the thousands of families that have fled the Masisi Zone, in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s North Kivu province, since intense fighting between the Congolese army and former CNDP soldiers, began in the area on Friday 27th April. More than 8,000 refugees from the DRC have fled across the border into Rwanda, with many more internally displaced and others fleeing into neighboring Uganda; the majority have arrived on foot and exhausted, carrying what little belongings they have had time to collect.

Providing Life-Saving Assistance

Like the refugees arriving before her, Ange and her children will be taken to the Nkamira Transit Centre, 22 km south of the Gisenyi border crossing, where they will be provided with shelter, water, food, basic services and the hope of being reunited with family. “It is my hope to find my husband at the Centre, we lost him in the confusion and he fled before me” Ange continues.

UNICEF is supporting the Government of Rwanda and UNHCR in providing life-saving assistance to the refugees, including adequate shelter, access to water and sanitation facilities, basic healthcare and protection services. However with a new influx of refugees every day, Nkamira is at full capacity, adding a huge pressure on the already strained relief efforts underway at the Centre.

“We are working hard to keep the water flowing, so that the people have enough water for drinking and washing. It is essential that people continue to use the latrines, we are doing all we can to ensure that water-borne diseases do not spread through the camp, despite the growing numbers of refugees arriving at the Centre and the heavy rains ” said UNICEF Chief of Water and Sanitation, Guy Mbayo Kakumbi.

UNICEF Rwanda/2012/Yasmine
© UNICEF Rwanda/2012/Yasmine
UNICEF is providing safe places for children to play at the Nkamira Transit Centre.

The Children Ran First

For many families, the realities of fleeing their homes, being separated from their loved ones and not knowing when they will return is only just dawning, after the chaos that ensued when they ran. Sarah, 40, left her village in Mushaki, with a large group of neighbors after they heard shooting between Congolese soldiers and rebel forces. “We did not have much time, people were screaming and many people had started to run already” she says as she casts her eyes over the camp that she will share with her 5 children and granddaughter. “It is the children who ran first” she says, “we followed later; I have lost two of my children I do not know where they ran to.” 

Meeting the Needs of Children and Adolescents

Children and adolescents make up more than half of the refugee population; while the younger children occupy themselves with playground games, groups of adolescents gather in circles, engaged in discussions about the events that have led them here. “I saw the people running, and the rebels and soldiers fighting” says 15yr old Arsene, who fled from his village when the fighting began. “I am not with my family, when the war happened everybody run for himself, I don’t know where they are.” 

It is the same story for many of the boys gathered around him, in fear of getting embroiled in the fighting, or recruited by soldiers, they fled leaving their families behind. “There were many soldiers, when they started shooting, I just ran and that’s when I lost my family” continues Arsene. Family tracing services are in place at the Centre to support Arsene and other adolescents who have been separated from their families.

Children and adolescents are extremely vulnerable to the stresses brought about by conflict. Uprooted from their homes and from school, children at the Nkamira Transit Centre face an insecure future. UNICEF is responding to their needs and is working with partners to build a protective environment at the Centre, where children can come together in a safe place to play, learn and find the support to help deal with the traumas of conflict and displacement.



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