Barcelona FC's president opens multi-purpose hall in Rwandan refugee camp

News Stories, 9 March 2010

© Courtesy of Eduardo Rubio
FC Barcelona President Joan Laporta surrounded by excited children at Kiziba camp.

KIZIBA, Rwanda, March 9 (UNHCR) Joan Laporta, president of Spanish football giants FC Barcelona, opened a special community hall for Congolese refugees during a visit earlier this month to Kiziba camp in Rwanda.

Laporta and Barcelona executives, guided by staff from the UN refugee agency, visited the hilltop camp in the north-west corner of the country last Thursday. Kiziba, home to some 19,000 refuges from Democratic Republic of the Congo's eastern provinces, is one of three camps to have benefitted from the "MÉS" campaign, a special partnership between UNHCR, Nike and the FC Barcelona Foundation.

The youthful Barcelona chief received a warm welcome from the camp residents, many of whom knew about his team and were keen to meet him. "Barcelona has done a lot to enable us to play sports in the camp," said 17-year-old Arsene, whose family fled from the Democratic Republic of the Congo when he was only two years old.

The highlight of the visit was the opening of the multi-purpose hall, where refugees will be able to hold cultural events and community meetings as well as play indoor sports and watch television. The hall will also be used for educational purposes and workshops. It was built with funding from the FC Barcelona Foundation.

"It will become the central place for strengthening community life," predicted Manuel Dos Santos, head of the UNHCR field office at Kiziba, adding that it was popularly known as Barça Hall.

This was the first time that Laporta had visited a UNHCR field operation or a refugee camp, but Barcelona has been providing support to the refugees in Kiziba, Nyabiheke and Gihembe camps since he signed a three-year partnership agreement with High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres in 2008.

"Thanks to everybody for putting their hearts into this," Laporta said in an address to the refugees. "The best sporting decision I ever made was to develop the Foundation to help people like you."

Many of the younger refugees, such as Arsene, play football in the camp and follow Barcelona and other big European teams on TV. "I can't believe the president of Barça has come here. We are very happy. It means a lot to us," Arsene said.

Laporta also visited the Kigali Memorial Centre, which was opened in 2004 to remember the estimated 800,000 people who lost their lives during the ethnic bloodletting of 1994.

On his return to Spain, Laporta attended activities in the southern port of Almeria linked to the departure on Sunday of a Play4Africa convoy, an initiative supported by both Barcelona and UNHCR. The Play4Africa vehicles will travel through 14 countries on their way to Cape Town in time for the World Cup football finals.

They will be stopping at dozens of towns en route, handing out footballs, boots and humanitarian aid to needy people. The beneficiaries will also include thousands of young refugee sport lovers in countries such as Sudan, Rwanda and Kenya. UNHCR is providing some logistical support.

By Line Pedersen in Kiziba, Rwanda

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DR Congo Crisis: Urgent Appeal

Intense fighting has forced more than 64,000 Congolese to flee the country in recent months.

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Play4Africa

Improving lives through sport

MÉS

In partnership with Nike and Spanish football giants, FC Barcelona, a campaign to raise funds for education and sports projects in refugee camps through the sale of a special line of clothing.

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As a massive food distribution gets underway in six UNHCR-run camps for tens of thousands of internally displaced Congolese in North Kivu, the UN refugee agency continues to hand out desperately needed shelter and household items.

A four-truck UNHCR convoy carrying 33 tonnes of various aid items, including plastic sheeting, blankets, kitchen sets and jerry cans crossed Wednesday from Rwanda into Goma, the capital of the conflict-hit province in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The aid, from regional emergency stockpiles in Tanzania, was scheduled for immediate distribution. The supplies arrived in Goma as the World Food Programme (WFP), with assistance from UNHCR, began distributing food to some 135,000 displaced people in the six camps run by the refugee agency near Goma.

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UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

Since 2006, renewed conflict and general insecurity in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo's North Kivu province has forced some 400,000 people to flee their homes – the country's worst displacement crisis since the formal end of the civil war in 2003. In total, there are now some 800,000 people displaced in the province, including those uprooted by previous conflicts.

Hope for the future was raised in January 2008 when the DRC government and rival armed factions signed a peace accord. But the situation remains tense in North Kivu and tens of thousands of people still need help. UNHCR has opened sites for internally displaced people (IDPs) and distributed assistance such as blankets, plastic sheets, soap, jerry cans, firewood and other items to the four camps in the region. Relief items have also been delivered to some of the makeshift sites that have sprung up.

UNHCR staff have been engaged in protection monitoring to identify human rights abuses and other problems faced by IDPs and other populations at risk across North Kivu.

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UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

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