Innovation: New Rwanda site a pilot for refugee camp planning and design

Making a Difference, 7 March 2014

Completed infrastructures (shelters, hangars, latrines) for the first few convoys of refugees

MUGOMBWA, Rwanda, March 7 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency has opened a new camp in southern Rwanda that will house thousands of Congolese refugees and act as a test bed for camp planning and design.

UNHCR began moving refugees in mid-February from the crowded Nkamira transit centre in western Rwanda to Mugombwa camp. The refugee camp, Rwanda's fifth, has been built on government-allocated land in Southern province, where the Kigeme camp opened two years ago is also located.

The move of some 9,000 mainly Congolese refugees to Mugombwa over the next three months will decongest Nkamira and provide capacity to accommodate any new influx of refugees from across the border. The new camp will be able to shelter some 20,000 people.

But UNHCR will also use Mugombwa camp as a pilot project in its development of a masterplan for the planning, design and construction of more efficient refugee camps that will provide improved protection and closer ties with the local community as well as better meet the needs of refugees. The refugee agency is working on this project with Stanford University in the United States and Ennead Architects of New York.

The innovative layout at Mugombwa facilitates integration and harmonious relations between refugees with local host communities by allowing the sharing of common space, facilities and essential services such as water, health, education and sanitation.

As part of the project, a socio-economic assessment will be conducted to evaluate the camp's impact on the neighbouring community. By using advanced software for more accurate topographical surveys, the design process will be faster and more effectively integrate the refugee population with the host community.

Meanwhile, refugees at Nkamira say they are not ready to return to North Kivu, despite the demise of the rebel M23 movement, which was defeated late last year by DRC government troops. They cite continuing concerns about insecurity and general lawlessness as well as a fear of persecution based on their ethnicity.

Rwanda provides shelter to more than 74,000 refugees, mostly Congolese.

By Erika Fitzpatrick in Mugombwa, Rwanda




UNHCR country pages

Keeping Busy in Rwanda's Kiziba Camp

Rwanda's Kiziba Camp was opened in December 1996, after the start of civil war in neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The facility was constructed to help cope with the influx of tens of thousands of Congolese refugees at that time. Some of the refugees have since returned to their homes in eastern DRC, but about 16,000 remain at the remote hilltop camp located in the Western province of Rwanda. Fresh violence last year in DRC's North Kivu province did not affect the camp because new arrivals were accommodated in the reopened Kigeme Camp in Rwanda's Southern province. Most of the refugees in Kiziba have said they do not want to return, but the prospects of local integration is limited by factors such as a lack of land and limited access to employment. In the meantime, people try to lead as normal a life as possible, learning new skills and running small businesses to help them become self-sufficient. For the youth, access to sports and education is very important to ensure that they do not become sidetracked by negative influences as well as to keep up their spirits and hopes for the future.

Keeping Busy in Rwanda's Kiziba Camp

The suffering and strength of displaced Congolese women

During the ceaseless cycle of violence in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, it is the vulnerable who suffer the most, especially women and children. The issue of widespread sexual and gender-based violence is a major concern for UNHCR, but it never goes away. The refugee agency has received dozens of reports of rape and assault of women during the latest wave of fighting between government forces and rebel troops as well as militia groups in North and South Kivu provinces. It is an area where rape is used as a weapon of war.

The fear of sexual and physical violence forces thousands of women to seek refuge away from their homes or across the border in countries such as Rwanda and Uganda. Often their menfolk remain behind and women become the heads of household, looking after young children. They are the bedrock of society, yet they are often the first to suffer when instability comes to their home areas.

The following images were taken recently in Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Uganda by Frédèric Noy. They depict Congolese women who have fled their homes, leaving almost everything behind, and sought shelter in a place they hope will be better than where they came from. In many ways they have become inured to hardship, but so many of them continue to retain hope for themselves and their children. And that is an inspiration to those who help them.

The suffering and strength of displaced Congolese women

Kigeme: A home carved from the hills for Congolese refugees

The Kigeme refugee camp in Rwanda's Southern province was reopened in June 2012 after thousands of Congolese civilians started fleeing across the border when fighting erupted in late April between Democratic Republic of the Congo government forces and fighters of the rebel M23 movement. Built on terraced hills, it currently houses more than 14,000 refugees but was not significantly affected by the latest fighting in eastern Congo, which saw the M23 capture the North Kivu provincial capital, Goma, before withdrawing. While many of the adults long for lasting peace in their home region, the younger refugees are determined to resume their education. Hundreds enrolled in special classes to help them prepare for the Rwandan curriculum in local primary and secondary schools, including learning different languages. In a camp where more than 60 per cent of the population are aged under 18 years, the catch-up classes help traumatized children to move forward, learn and make friends.

Kigeme: A home carved from the hills for Congolese refugees

Rwanda: Flight from BurundiPlay video

Rwanda: Flight from Burundi

In recent weeks, the number of Burundian refugees crossing into Rwanda has increased significantly. According to the Government of Rwanda, since the beginning of April, 25,004 Burundians, mostly women and children, have fled to Rwanda. Many said they had experienced intimidation and threats of violence linked to the upcoming elections.