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Congolese Refugees in Rwanda

A week ago, this camp was all but empty. A transit centre for Rwandans returning from years of being refugees in the Democratic Republic of Congo, around 450 Rwandans passed through here each month. But since April 28th, the Nkamira transit camp, 15km from Rwanda’s border town of Gisenyi, is now overflowing with more than 5000 Congolese refugees. With clashes between the Congolese army and mutinying soldiers, the UN estimates that around 20,000 people have been displaced.

Straton Kamanzi, the manager of the centre nestled into Rwanda’s hills, said this morning that “there is not enough space for everyone”, as tents and make-shift shelters are assembled on the grass outside his office. “On Tuesday, we expected 5000 refugees would arrive here. But we’ve already passed that, and we could have a lot more.” For those that arrived the previous evening, room could not be found, and so they slept outside in the bitterly cold night. “We hope that we’ll have shelter for them tonight, but for those that arrive today, I don’t think so.”

The refugees here all tell tales of war, of attacks going on around their villages in Massisi district of Congo’s restive North Kivu province. News reports are focusing on the whereabouts of Bosco Ntaganda, a general in the Congolese army indicted by the International Criminal Court. He is held responsible for the defecting soldiers, and is now wanted by the Congolese state as well as the ICC; but he denies any involvement in the mutiny.

Everyone in the camp knows his name, but they are far from unanimous on his involvement in the clashes that have forced them from their homes. Many were fleeing due to looting and lawlessness that has erupted since the conflict.

But now, their more pressing needs are shelter. The Rwandan authorities here, as well as UNHCR, are erecting structures as fast they can, but this is not a refugee camp, and if the problems of North Kivu continue, a more permanent solution will need to be found for the swelling numbers of Congolese.