"UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency, is mandated by the United Nations to lead and coordinate international action for the world-wide protection of refugees and the resolution of refugee problems."
UNHCR’s primary purpose is to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees. UNHCR strives to ensure that everyone can exercise the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge in another state, and to return home voluntarily.
By assisting refugees to return to their own country or to settle in another country, UNHCR also seeks lasting solutions to their plight.
UNHCR’s efforts are mandated by the organisation’s Statute, and guided by the 1951 United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol.
International refugee law provides an essential framework of principles for UNHCR’s humanitarian activities.
UNHCR’s Executive Committee and the UN General Assembly have also authorised the organisation’s involvement with other groups. These include people who are stateless or whose nationality is disputed and, in certain circumstances, internally displaced persons (IDPs).
UNHCR seeks to reduce situations of forced displacement by encouraging states and other institutions to create conditions which are conducive to the protection of human rights and the peaceful resolution of disputes. In pursuit of the same objective, UNHCR actively seeks to consolidate the reintegration of returning refugees in their country of origin, thereby averting the recurrence of refugee-producing situations.
UNHCR offers protection and assistance to refugees and others in an impartial manner, on the basis of their need and irrespective of their race, religion, political opinion or gender. In all of its activities, UNHCR pays particular attention to the needs of children and seeks to promote the equal rights of women and girls.
In its efforts to protect refugees and to promote solutions to their problems, UNHCR works in partnership with governments, regional organisations, international and non-governmental organisations.
UNHCR is committed to the principle of participation by consulting refugees on decisions that affect their lives.
By virtue of its activities on behalf of refugees and displaced people, UNHCR also promotes the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter: maintaining international peace and security; developing friendly relations among nations; and encouraging respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Care and Maintenance programme for refugees
UNHCR Rwanda provides "care and maintenance" to the refugee population hosted on Rwandan territory in three camps (Kiziba in Kibuye province, Gihembe in Byumba province and Kigeme in Gikongoro province) and one urban centre (Kigali-ville).
This assistance consists of the following:
a. Non Food Items (NFIs) distribution: soap, jerry cans, blankets, red flannel, kitchen sets are distributed on an ad hoc basis for the urban caseload and for refugees in transit centres. NFIs are provided on a monthly basis in the camps.
b. Food distribution: The World Food Programme (WFP), under the supervision of UNHCR, distributes a standard, monthly food basket to refugees in the camps. 1.00 rations are available for the most vulnerable refugees in the urban caseload.
c. Education: All refugee children have access to free primary and secondary schooling in schools in the camps, in the towns adjacent to the camps and in Kigali for the urban refugee caseload.
d. Health services: All refugees have access to free medical check-ups. Health clinics are operated by our Implementing Partners American Refugee Committee (ARC) and Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS) in the camps and by Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) in Kigali.
e. Income-generating activities: Training for refugees in cabinet-making and sowing, among other things, is available to refugees in the camps through JRS. In Kigali, urban refugees are referred to the COOPEDU.
f. Environmental Programme: To minimise deforestation in and around refugee camps, new environmentally-friendly peat-burning stoves will gradually be introduced to the refugee population in the camps. Moreover, UNHCR is heavily involved in reforesting areas in the provinces impacted by a refugee presence. Activities include the training of provincial authorities and environmental technicians, the setting up of tree nurseries, and tree planting. Refugees are involved in the latter tow activities as often as possible.
g. Food for Work: a few "Food for Work" schemes exist, in collaboration with the World Food Programme (WFP)
h. Sports: Right to Play provides refugee youth with sporting activities and conducts refugees interesting in coaching with training, according to the "training of trainers" method.
Reintegration assistance to Returnees
UNHCR, in cooperation with the Joint Commission on the Repatriation and Reintegration of Rwandese Refugees (JCRRRR), assists returnees to repatriate to Rwanda and reintegrate Rwandan socio-economic structures.
From Facilitation to Promotion – UNHCR’s policy shift in Rwanda:
Having examined the positive developments within Rwanda and noting the substantial increase in the number of Rwandan refugees voluntarily electing to return home, UNHCR changed its policy from merely facilitating voluntary return of Rwandan refugees to actively promoting voluntary repatriation.
On 2 October 2002, a Final Communiqué underlining this policy change and stating the possibility of invoking the cessation clause (under the "ceased circumstances" provision) vis-à-vis Rwandan refugees was signed and issued in Geneva.
The UNHCR Office of the Coordinator for the Great Lakes Region, based in Nairobi, was tasked with elaborating an implementation strategy and coordinating the application of this policy in the Africa Region.
It is currently estimated that there are over 80,000 Rwandans throughout the Africa continent with DRC (33,000), Uganda (18,000), Zambia (5,000) and Malawi (3,000) hosting the most significant numbers. Presently, the following countries are involved in hosting Rwandan refugees: Benin, Burundi, Cameroon, Central Africa Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, Gabon, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. An enhanced repatriation campaign from Tanzania brought back some 23,500 Rwandan refugees in less than 3 months (October-December 2002).
A Tripartite Agreement is a legal document signed by authorities from a country hosting Rwandan refugees, the Government of Rwanda, and the UNHCR which sets out the modalities for the voluntary repatriation of those refugees.
In light of changed conditions in Rwanda, since October 2002, the UNHCR changed its policy from mere facilitation to active promoting of the repatriation of Rwandan refugees from all over the African continent. It is in light of this that Tripartite Agreements have been signed between Rwanda, the UNHCR and the Central African Republic (January 2002), Zambia (January 2003), the Republic of Congo (May 2003), and Uganda (July 2003) while the Tripartite Commission with Tanzania was officially closed in January 2003 with the successful repatriation of the Rwandan caseload in Tanzania. Moreover, the relevant authorities in Cameroon and Malawi were approached to set up Tripartite Commissions; the Government of Rwanda and the UNHCR hopes to sign such Agreements with these countries in the coming months.
These Tripartite Agreements come in anticipation of the application of the Cessation Clause to the special category of Rwandan refugees after 2004.
BO Kigali oversees the production of informational materials promoting voluntary repatriation to Rwanda. For example, two Kinyarwanda-language videos were produced in 2002 and the first half of 2003 showcasing local conflict resolution mechanisms put in place for returnees as well as footage of recent returnees talking about their experience reintegrating into Rwandan society.
A staple of voluntary repatriation informational campaigns has been the organising of "go and see" visits. These consist of representatives from the refugee communities visiting Rwanda and returning to share their testimony with their fellow Rwandan refugees on the one hand, and recent returnees going back to their former refugee communities and sharing their experiences with Rwandans who remain in exile, on the other. UNHCR also funds "sensitisation" missions, where relevant Rwandan government officials visit areas hosting Rwandan refugees, to explain among other things, Rwanda’s gacaca (traditional) tribunals, government policy on returning property (chiefly homes and lands), and engage in general debate with the refugees to try to allay their apprehensions.
All returnees are given a standard repatriation package, consisting of a 3-month food ration and a basic non-food item (NFI) package consisting of kitchen sets, jerry cans, blankets, soap, plastic sheeting and plastic mats. An enhanced repatriation package, where seeds and hoes were included in the basic food and NFIs, was given to returnees from Tanzania during the enhanced repatriation period, which ended in December 2002. Special arrangements were made for vulnerable returnees: their repatriation claims were processed as a priority, they were transported on separate buses, and given immediate medical attention at the entry point (instead of having to wait to return to their commune of origin) as needed.
Returnees continue to benefit from the protection of UNHCR for 2 years after the date of their return. After suspension of monitoring activities due to funding shortfalls, UNHCR Rwanda currently has monitoring staff conducting interviews with returnees in the field. A report should be available as at October 2003.
Need more information?
For more information on Rwanda’s reconciliation efforts, please consult: Rwandan National Unity and Reconciliation Commission (NURC), especially reports on the gacaca traditional court system.
For more information on the Disarmament, Demobilisation, Repatriation, Rehabilitation Resettlement and Reintegration (DDRRR) programme, consult the Rwandan Demobilisation and Reintegration Commission (RDRC) and the United Nations for the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC).
For more information on Rwanda’s land policy, see the Rwandan Ministry of Lands and Human Resettlement (MINITERRE) as well as the Brookings Initiative.