GENEVA, Switzerland, February 23, 2018/This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Cécile Pouilly – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today’s press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva:
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is urging authorities in Rwanda to ensure safety and protection for refugees after protests led to the tragic deaths of at least five refugees and the injury of many others – including the members of the police force – on Thursday. We are shocked and disturbed at loss of refugee lives.
Around 700 Congolese refugees from Kiziba refugee camp were demonstrating outside the UNHCR field office in Karongi, in western Rwanda. The protests, ongoing since February 20, were related to food ration cuts that have added to the refugees’ sense of despair and lack of long-term prospective. Police were reported to have used teargas to disperse the protestors, after attempts to resolve the situation had failed. Clashes were reported before the police fired shots at angry protestors.
We regret that our continued appeals for maintaining calm and restraint were not considered. This tragedy should have been avoided and disproportionate use of force against desperate refugees is not acceptable. UNHCR calls on authorities to refrain from further use of force and to investigate the circumstances of this tragic incident.
UNHCR appeals to refugee leaders to show a sense of responsibility to avoid further confrontation and again urges them to respect laws and seek solutions to all their grievances through peaceful negotiations.
Underfunding has severely affected humanitarian operations in Rwanda, now with deadly consequences. UNHCR’s 2018 appeal for US$98.8 million to support refugees in Rwanda is only is 2 per cent funded.
Kiziba refugee camp hosts over 17,000 refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Over 173,000 refugees from the DRC and Burundi live in six camps in Rwanda.