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Mahama refugee camp is today a model settlement in Rwanda and even beyond

Since being opened by the Government of Rwanda and the UN Refugee Agency  just two years ago, Mahama is by far the largest, hosting over 53,000 individuals and counting in a sector which is home to 23,000 generous Rwandans.

Locally, the camp is often referred to as the “13th Sector” of Kirehe District in Eastern Province. The cordial relationship and warm welcome accorded to refugees by the host community have seen the local Executives Secretaries and the Mayor frequently joining UNHCR and MIDIMAR at the camp during important events and high-level visits.

During the first weeks of the Burundi refugee crisis in April 2015, UNHCR and the Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs (MIDIMAR) with their partners had to quickly deploy teams to establish emergency communal shelters, temporary water systems and emergency health clinics to enable the huge numbers of arriving refugees to live in basic safety and dignity.

Today, two years later, Mahama camp is almost unrecognizable, having transformed from a panorama of plastic tents and temporary infrastructures into what appears to be a model village where services are available to refugees and host community members alike.

Various projects have been developed to improve living conditions inside and around the camp. In the beginning, UNHCR provided health care for refugees under plastic sheeting, but today it operates two solid health centers with its partners and this has led to improved access to quality health care for both refugees and the local population alike.

Rwandan doctors and Burundian nurses mingle within the health center corridors, supporting patients daily, while cases requiring secondary and tertiary level care are referred to the local hospitals. For over 30,000 refugees living in urban settings, the Government is working on a plan to ensure they can access the national health insurance scheme.

Rwandan doctors and Burundian nurses mingle within the health center corridors, supporting patients daily, while cases requiring secondary and tertiary level care are referred to the local hospitals. For over 30,000 refugees living in urban settings, the Government is working on a plan to ensure they can access the national health insurance scheme.

Research conducted in Rwanda by University of California and University of Maastricht demonstrates that refugees contribute positively to the local economy through job-creasion and economic spill-over effects, and Mahama is no exception, with an expanded market for goods and services since the arrival of the refugees, benefitting Rwandans and refugees alike.

As the sun sets each day at Mahama camp, hundreds of refugee are seen re-entering the camp after a day’s work at the local community, local markets or from learning in the nearby school.

These activities help give to refugees a sense of the normalcy that they once experienced in their home country. The freedom of movement, the access to modern schools, health services and ability to interact freely with the host community can only be attributed to the existing peace and good relationship between the Government of Rwanda, UNHCR and international community.

Mahama camp opened on 22 April 2015, following a sudden mass influx of refugees from Burundi who were fleeing violence related to the presidential elections.

In a span of just three weeks – between 1 April and 22 April, there were already 9,500 Burundian refugees in urgent need of life-saving humanitarian assistance.

he number of Burundian refugees in Rwanda today stands at nearly 84,898, of which two thirds are living in Mahama camp.

The Express News Rwanda

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