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With Little Hope of Going Back Home Soon, Congolese Start a New Life in Rwanda

In Rwanda, refugees fleeing violence in eastern DR Congo receive assistance from the World Food Programme

At Grande Barriere, the busy border crossing between Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Gisenyi, in Rwanda, trucks transporting merchandise mix with cars and people crossing on foot. For the past few months, though, a new group of people has been steadily making the trek to Rwanda.

 They look weary. Many have left in a hurry and carry a jumble of household items: foam mattresses, pots, clothes, indeed anything they could grab quickly. Women, often alone, carry their tired children on their back.

 Once on the Gisenyi side, the Congolese gather in a big white tent and identify themselves to Rwandan authorities.


“I fled when fighting started in my village,” said Louise Betta. She and her two children had just made it across the border and she looked relieved. A truck would soon take her to the Nkamira Transit Centre and there, she would be properly registered as a refugee.


Located about 30 minutes from the border, the transit centre was set up by Rwandan authorities. Humanitarian organizations have been struggling to provide adequate assistance to thousands of people who sought safety for themselves and their families in Rwanda. Aid workers say they have not seen so many people fleeing Congo in almost a decade.


Within hours of their arrival to Nkamira, refugees receive maize, beans, oil and salt from WFP, as well as blankets, mats, soap and other essential items from UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies.


“We got scared and left,” says Kennedy Mugabe, who had arrived the previous day was collecting his food ration with his wife Rose. They both explained this was not the first time they have had to flee. They usually took refuge with people they know in the hills near their home, they explained, but this time was different.


“There's no peace,” said Mugabe. “Danger is everywhere.” And so, they walked to the border and decided to stay in Rwanda until peace returns to their village in North Kivu.


Day in, day out, trucks arrive from the border, bringing dozens of new people while bus convoys leave the transit centre with registered Congolese refugees going to Kigeme, a new camp set up to give them a more permanent place to stay. The Rwandan authorities quickly realized that with the influx of people seeking refuge in their country, they needed more space. Kigeme Camp, located in the south of Rwanda, opened in June. The camp was designed to hold 12,000 people, and is already full. New refugees are now going to Nyabiheke camp in the Eastern Province of Rwanda.

“People here depend entirely or to a great extent on the international community's assistance through WFP, UNHCR and other agencies,” said Abdoulaye Balde, WFP’s Country Director in Rwanda. “With nearly 20,000 additional people who need food assistance, it’s becoming a challenge to respond to this new regional emergency.”

Uprooted, with little hope of going back home soon, most settle for a lot less than what they had. "As long as I have food," said a mother cooking beans for her two children in one of Kigeme’s kitchen tents. "I can cope with all of this."