Cablegate: Rwanda's Unhcr Camps Face Resettlement Challenge

Published: Fri 13 Aug 2004 10:25 AM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A
1. SUMMARY: The United Nations High Commission for Refugees
(UNHCR) runs three refugee camps and three transit centers
in Rwanda. The camps house Congolese and Burundian
refugees, while the transit centers provide for Rwandans
returning from neighboring countries. During recent visits
to the UNHCR camps at Gikongoro and Kibuye, refugees
expressed gratitude for the work of UNHCR, but also
explained that the absence of viable options for leaving
the camp, especially the slow process of resettlement,
remained their greatest challenge. The United States has
accepted many refugees for resettlement, but it is the
Government of Rwanda's (GOR) delay in granting exit visas
that presents the main hindrance to the resettlement
option. END SUMMARY.
2. UNHCR, which began current operations in Rwanda in 1995,
works with the Ministry for Local Government, Rural
Development and Social Affairs (MINILOC); and it currently
runs three refugee camps in the country. The Gikongoro
camp is specifically for Burundian refugees, while both the
Kibuye and Byumba camps are for Congolese refugees
(primarily Banyarwanda Tutsis from North Kivu). The camps
collectively hold close to 35,000 refugees and provide
housing, health services, and educational opportunities.
In addition to the refugee camps, UNHCR has three transit
centers in Rwanda to reintegrate Rwandans returning from
neighboring countries.
3. UNHCR offers three options for refugees to leave the
camps: repatriation returns refugees back to their home
country; integration finds space for them in their country
of refuge (Rwanda); and resettlement relocates the refugee
to a third country (usually the United States or Canada).
As both the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and
Burundi remain conflict zones, repatriation is not a viable
option. Considering the population density of Rwanda,
integrating refugees into its land is unrealistic.
Resettlement remains the only viable option, yet
difficulties in the process have hindered its successful
completion. Thus, many refugees remain in the UNHCR camps
for extended periods.
4. The UNHCR camp in Gikongoro houses approximately 750
Burundian refugees escaping Burundi's civil war. Many
refugees escaped to Rwanda in 1972, while others have
arrived post-1994. Emboff visited the Gikongoro camp on
August 4 and met with the camp manager. The budget of the
camp reflects its small size, and the camp seems to be
struggling for resources. The camp lacks the implementing
partner organizations that often provide additional
services to UNHCR refugees, and most of its facilities
suffer as a result.
5. The Gikongoro camp has a small, two-room dispensary
staffed by two 'medical' employees, neither of them
physicians. The dispensary lacks capacity to treat most
illnesses, and thus refers most cases to hospitals outside
the camp. The high altitude of the camp causes respiratory
problems for many of the refugees. HIV/AIDS, the flu, eye
problems, psychological issues, and intestinal illnesses
resulting from the close living quarters also affect the
camp residents.
6. Regarding education, the Gikongoro camp has its own
facilities providing the first three years of primary
education (P1-P3), with 132 children currently enrolled.
These children study in small, one-room tents. One tent in
the makeshift school is a storeroom, and was virtually
empty during Poloff's visit. Teachers complain that the
lack of books and other teaching materials presents the
greatest challenge for them. Children attend a nearby
Rwandan primary school for the latter half of their primary
education (P4-P6), where 87 refugee students are currently
enrolled. Currently, 42 Gikongoro refugees study outside
the camp-site at Rwandan secondary schools. [COMMENT: It
is unclear whether all children have the opportunity to
continue to local Rwandan schools or only a select number
may do so. END COMMENT]. In addition to these educational
opportunities, the Gikongoro camp offers basic computer
training and is beginning a sewing program for its
7. There are no televisions or other forms of entertainment
available to the refugees, and they complain that there is
nothing to do at the camp. The lack of job opportunities
restricts their options of finding other ways to pass the
time. Frustrated by the inability to return to their
country, the impossibility of integrating in Rwanda, and
the slow and limited process of resettlement, many refugees
leave the camp in frustration.
8. Many refugees express gratitude for the work of UNHCR,
and say that they get along with their Rwandan neighbors.
Still, they express a desire to return home as soon as
9. The UNHCR Kibuye camp is home to approximately 16,500
Congolese refugees mainly escaping the ongoing conflict in
the eastern DRC. The camp, which was originally in Gisenyi
province, now is situated in an isolated part of Kibuye
province; and the refugees have few neighbors. The Kibuye
camp has a number of implementing partner NGOs that improve
the atmosphere for the refugees, including the American
Refugee Committee (ARC), Africa Humanitarian Action (AHA),
Jesuit Relief Services (JRS), and Right-to-Play. As a
result, the Kibuye camp has better facilities than the
Gikongoro camp.
10. The hospital at Kibuye camp consists of 3-4 buildings,
including a maternity ward, and is equipped and managed by
AHA. The hospital, staffed by an Ethiopian surgeon and
many assistants, provides excellent healthcare for the
11. The Kibuye camp has on its grounds both a primary and
secondary school, consisting of many small tents. In
addition, a women's cooperative provides sewing
opportunities for the women, while men learn shoemaking and
12. The Kibuye camp also lacks televisions, but Right-to-
Play provides sports, games, and life-skills for the
refugees. The refugees' main complaints are that food
rations are inadequate and the resettlement process is
13. Budget restraints challenge both refugee camps and
cause other problems to arise. The World Food Program
(WFP) calculates food rations and, except for a two-month
reduction earlier this year, has provided the standard
package to all refugee camps. Still, refugees complain
that the quantities are insufficient. They also comment
that there are few opportunities to generate income and
that other options to pass the time are nonexistent. But
by far the greatest complaint is the lack of alternatives
to staying at the refugee camp. Many refugees resent that
repatriation is not an option and resettlement is an
extremely slow process.
14. The resettlement process consists of a UNHCR interview
and petition to a third-party country for resettlement, an
interview conducted by the resettlement country, a medical
examination, cultural lessons, and an exit visa granted by
the current host country (Rwanda). It is the exit visa
that presents the problem for many refugees looking to
15. Considering the small size of the Burundi camp in
Gikongoro, UNHCR has attempted to resettle the entire camp.
However, despite United States agreement to accept many of
the refugees for resettlement, the Burundians remain in
Rwanda. UNHCR officials explained that the GOR has delayed
in granting their exit visas. Before clearing the visa,
the GOR investigates the refugees' involvement in the 1994
Genocide, as thousands of Burundian Hutus fled to Rwanda in
1972 following heavy persecution in Burundi and were in-
country during the Genocide. This investigative process
has been very slow. UNHCR officials had hoped that the
process would be faster for Burundians entering Rwanda
after 1994, but this has not been the case.
16. UNHCR says that the GOR promised a reply by June on the
status of the refugees' exit visas, but to date no reply
has come. UNHCR explains that the Burundian refugees are
investigated by the GOR's National Security Service, and
UNHCR is prevented from checking their progress. The
Burundian refugees are supposed to be cleared on an
individual basis, but thus far none of them have been
granted exit visas. This hindrance has prevented all
Burundian refugees from resettling elsewhere and is the
cause for much of their frustration. Congolese refugees
face fewer problems concerning resettlement--as most
Congolese were not in Rwanda before 1994 and therefore are
not believed to have participated in the Genocide--and many
were resettled as recently as May.
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