“Excessive Force Against Refugees Unacceptable” – UNHCR tells Rwanda After Killing of 5 Refugees

Congolese refugees walking to the UNHCR offices in Kiziba refugee camp last week (Reuters Photo)

The UN Refugee Agency has condemned the failure by government in Rwanda to ensure safety and protection for refugees following clashes by protesters and Police in which five Congolese refugees were killed last week.

UNHCR said that the events that unfolded in Rwanda when around 2,000 Congolese refugees from Kiziba refugee camp protested against cuts in food rations outside the UNHCR field office in Karongi, “should have been avoided and disproportionate use of force against desperate refugees is not acceptable”.

“We are shocked and disturbed at loss of refugee lives,” said the UNHCR spokesperson Cécile Pouilly during a press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva last Friday.

While the Congolese refugees gathered in a demonstration outside the UNHCR offices, Rwandan police officers reportedly used teargas to disperse the refugees, amid resistance, which resulted into clashes. Police later fired shots killing some and leaving others injured.

“We regret that our continued appeals for maintaining calm and restraint were not considered. UNHCR calls on authorities to refrain from further use of force and to investigate the circumstances of this tragic incident,” Pouilly told the press.

UNHCR has also asked refugee leaders to “show a sense of responsibility to avoid further confrontation and again urges them to respect laws and seek solutions to all their grievances through peaceful negotiations”.

In the wake of the clashes, Rwanda’s Minister fot Disaster Management, Jeanne d‘Arc DeBonheur said that police had to act for security reasons.

“They must leave that place and go to the camp. Even we agreed with UNHCR that they cannot get any support while they are still camped there,” Jeanne is quoted by Reuters as have said.

Kiziba refugee camp hosts over 17,000 refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Over 173,000 refugees from the DRC and Burundi live in six camps in Rwanda.

Underfunding has severely affected humanitarian operations in Rwanda, now with deadly consequences. UNHCR’s 2018 appeal for USD 98.8 million to support refugees in Rwanda is only 2 per cent funded.

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