Rwanda has welcomed refugees for over two decades and generally provides a favourable protection environment, with the country hosting nearly 164,000 refugees at the end of 2020 – mainly from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi – in six refugee camps across Rwanda (Gihembe, Kigeme, Kiziba, Mahama, Mugombwa and Nyabiheke) and two urban areas (Kigali and Huye).
The Government of Rwanda officially accepted the application of the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF) in February 2018 and continues to contribute to the progressive implementation of the Global Compact on Refugees. Rwanda made nine pledges at the Global Refugee Forum in December 2019, which focused on education, livelihoods, protection, environment, energy and health. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Rwanda was the first country in the East and Horn of Africa and Great Lakes region to develop thematic action plans for each pledge. All operational responses are in line with this inclusive protection and solutions approach and UNHCR will continue to closely follow up with the Government on the implementation of pledges in 2021.
As the Burundi refugee crisis approaches its sixth year, the situation has stabilized, and following national elections in May 2020, UNHCR assisted some 8,000 Burundians who expressed a desire to return home to repatriate from Rwanda in 2020, with more than 40,000 returns anticipated in 2021.
The strategy for Congolese refugees who have lived in Rwanda for almost 24 years will remain focused on their inclusion in national systems and scaling up livelihood opportunities so they are no longer dependent on humanitarian assistance. Since the 2018 political transition in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, UNHCR has been exploring possibilities to facilitate a tripartite dialogue with Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo on durable solutions. This will continue to be a priority for UNHCR in 2021.
Since the signing of the tripartite agreement between the Government of Rwanda, the African Union and UNHCR in September 2019 that led to the creation of the Emergency Transit Mechanism programme in Rwanda, some 385 refugees and asylum-seekers have been evacuated from Libya. The evacuees also benefit from resettlement programmes and this complementary pathway is expected to continue throughout 2021, should COVID-19 travel restrictions permit, with some 1,500 refugees and asylum-seekers anticipated to be evacuated from Libya to Rwanda through this mechanism.
The Refugee Coordination Model in Rwanda is co-led by the Government and UNHCR. It includes a range of UN agencies, NGOs and other operational and development partners. UNHCR will also continue to coordinate sector working groups (co-coordinating with partners where relevant).
Refugees and returnees are included in the United Nations Development Assistance Plan II (2018-2023) and the national development agenda. UNHCR will remain an active participant in the UN Country Team and the United Nations Development Assistance Framework task force.
In 2021, UNHCR will focus on:
- Ensuring reception, protection and assistance are available for all people of concern through a community-based approach, with targeted assistance for persons at heightened risk.
- Expanding cash assistance to enhance efficiency and promote the financial and economic inclusion of refugees, while also fostering self-reliance to reduce dependancy on humanitarian assistance.
- Rolling out alternative cooking energy solutions in all camps.
- Reinforcing advocacy and strategic partnerships for the inclusion of all refugees in national systems (such as health care and education).
- Seeking opportunities for, and implementing, durable solutions, including resettlement and voluntary repatriation.