The refugee and transit camps in question belong to the WFP’s Protracted Relief and Recovery Operation (PRRO) in Rwanda. PRROs, according to the WFP website, “help sustain disaster-hit communities as they re-establish livelihoods and stabilize food security” if an initial two-year emergency operation has not relieved suffering. The PRRO in Rwanda is a response to a destabilizing surge of violence in neighboring DRC in 2008, and is in effect from January 2010 until the end of this year. A plan to continue feeding the refugees for the following three years is currently in the works.
Refugees from DRC
War first broke out in DRC in 1998, drawing in actors from across the continent and witnessing the highest number of casualties of any conflict since the Second World War. Although peace was negotiated in 2002, opposing militias have continued to operate in DRC since. Fighting surged in 2008 when the CNDP, a Tutsi militia under General Laurent Nkunda, launched an offensive against the government that ended with Nkunda’s arrest in January 2009. This fighting displaced an estimated 250,000 Congolese. Refugees at the Rwandan camps are primarily made up of Congolese who fled during this fighting. They are joined by some of the 10,000 Rwandan refugees who return home from abroad each year, having also been displaced by conflict.
Crisis in the Horn of Africa
Mr. Antoine Ruvebana, Permanent Secretary at Rwanda’s Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs (MIDIMAR), told The New Times that the funding shortage was due to donors sending much of their promised funds instead to support relief efforts in the Horn of Africa. Not only is this explanation incomplete – the PRRO faced funding shortages long before the famine – but it highlights contradictory behavior on behalf of the Rwandan government.
The famine in the Horn of Africa threatens an estimated 12 million people with starvation, leading the UN to lobby for $2.5 billion in funding to prevent the unthinkable. Kigali has donated $100,000 to relief efforts. Such an amount is a token of support, but the timing leaves questions unanswered. Four days prior to the donation, Mr. Ruvebana had told the New Times that the government lacked any money to support the Congolese refugees in Rwanda, even though food shortages were known to be imminent. He even went on to say that “[w]hile the problem in Somalia is very urgent, we call upon the countries and donors that have been funding WFP programs in Rwanda to reconsider [donating to Somalia] because the situation is equally becoming appalling.” Furthermore, Rwanda’s donation to the Horn of Africa came the day after the WFP announced that the cuts in rations would definitely occur.
While the $100,000 is not a large donation in terms of either crisis, it could have paid for one thirty-eighth of the WFP’s deficit rather than one twenty-five-thousandth of the UN mission. Whether or not this was the right decision is certainly a matter for debate, and one that draws into questions Kigali’s readiness to take responsibility for the refugees. According to WHO documents, feeding activities are to be handed over to the Rwandan Ministry of Health when the PRRO ends in December. That, however, is unlikely to occur as the WHO is currently creating a program to feed the refugees for the following three years.
The Rwandan government has undertaken action to ease the suffering of the refugees. According to Mr. Balde, the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources allowed the WFP to borrow 2,300 metric tons of maize and beans, which has been critical in providing the refugees with full rations up until September. This loan alone made up for a 52% deficit in the WFP budget for the previous nine months.
MIDIMAR for its part has assisted the WFP in lobbying for donor funding and is in the process of handing out refugee IDs, which would enable refugees to legally find work in Rwanda. Dependence on WFP rations is often caused by the inability to find work. While issuing refugee cards would enable more refugees to support themselves, the government cannot seem to hand out the ID’s fast enough and the refugees have taken to illegally acquiring Rwandan national IDs to help them find work.
Fate of the Refugees
The reduction in rations is expected to affect the refugees in a number of ways. Those at greatest risk for health repercussions are pregnant women, young children, and those infected with HIV/AIDS. Since refugees will still be getting 50% of their recommended calories, large-scale deaths are not expected; however Mr. Balde notes that – insofar as child development will be impeded – the reductions “will affect the productivity and income of the future generations.” Prior to the reductions in rations, acute malnutrition in the camps stood at 6% and severe acute malnutrition at 1.7%.
For the often poor and unemployed refugees, WFP food rations are more than sustenance. According to the WFP, “refugees resort to trading part of their ration to meet non-food needs.” Thus, the reduction in rations will limit both the refugee’s nutritional intake as well as their ability to trade for other needs.
In a foreign country where there is little access to work or land, the Congolese refugees have little choice but to accept their fate.
Author: Tim Davis