UN calls for calm after ‘violent’ refugee protest in Rwanda

Geneva, Feb 22 (IANS/AKI) United Nations refugee agency UNHCR on Thursday said it had received “worrying” reports of a refugee protest over food rations turning violent in Rwandas sprawling Kiziba refugee camp, and urged “calm and restraint”.

“UNHCR urges the refugees to respect local laws and express grievances through dialogue, while calling on authorities to handle the situation with calm and restraint,” the agency said.

UNHCR said the protesters were reportedly angered by cuts to food aid at Kiziba camp in western Rwanda’s Karongi district, which hosts over 17,000 refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, over three-quarters of whom are women and children.

Some refugees have also indicated their desire to return to the DRC, out of desperation, UNHCR reported.

“Refugees have the right to return to their country whenever they wish. But we urge refugees to make an informed decision and not to listen to misinformation or rumours”” said UNHCR’s Rwanda representative Ahmed Baba Fall.

“Refugee protection and safety is our top priority,” he said.

Humanitarian operations in Rwanda remain acutely short of cash, forcing the UN World Food Programme to cut food rations by 10 per cent in November 2017 and by 25 per cent in January this year.

“Prolonged ration cuts put at serious risk food security and the nutritional needs of refugees, who are dependent on assistance,” UNHCR warned.

UNHCR said it is advocating with donors to address the a shortfall in humanitarian funding and the urgent needs of refugees

UNHCR’s 2018 appeal for $98.8 million to help refugees in Rwanda is only is 2 per cent funded and WFP has warned it could be forced to make larger food ration cuts if monthly requirements of $2.5 million are not met, the agency said.

Rwanda hosts over 173,000 refugees in six camps, including Kiziba, where Congolese refugees have lived for over 20 years.

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