Rwanda has been hosting thousands of refugees for decades, and today supports over 150,000 refugees and asylum-seekers who have fled mainly from Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Government of Rwanda has generously maintained open borders and refugees in Rwanda are granted the right to work as well as being progressively included into host communities, national health and education systems.
After spending time meeting and talking to Burundian and Congolese refugees and seeing some of UNHCR’s work to support and protect them, Mbatha-Raw commented, “It’s one thing to hear about UNHCR’s work, and another to witness it first-hand. It has been eye-opening to meet the refugees who have fled unimaginable violence and suffering, and to hear their stories. I met a woman, Rehema, who had just arrived from Burundi – she was 9 months pregnant and with her two year old daughter Josephine. Her husband had been killed and she fled desperate for help with a baby about to be born. Seeing how quickly the UNHCR team and partners worked to get her settled and give her special assistance was incredibly impressive.”
“I have been able to see some amazing, positive UNHCR supported projects here in Rwanda, like MADE51 an inspiring initiative in which Burundian refugee women create beautiful products like bowls, baskets and bags for international sales.”Mbatha-Raw continued. "It’s uplifting to see these talented women getting the opportunity to earn their own money, while learning creative and business skills. But MADE 51 also creates a vital healing environment, a feeling of dignity, hope and a sense of working together to create a new community.
The group of artisan women Mbatha-Raw met are supported by ‘Indego Africa’ in Mahama camp as part of UNHCR’s MADE51 initiative, which helps to connect refugee-made artisanal products with international markets.
UNHCR has led a programme of resettlement to the United States for Congolese refugees who have fled to Rwanda. The US also provides significant financial assistance for refugee programs in Rwanda and is the largest individual donor to UNHCR. Since 2002, more than 57,000 Congolese refugees have been resettled in the United States. Commenting on this Mbatha-Raw said “Refugee resettlement is so vital for many of the vulnerable refugees I have met, who have already shown incredible resilience and strength, resettlement has the capacity to be completely life-changing. I met a young woman, Jeanette, about to be resettled in Atlanta and when I asked her what she would do there. She told me ‘I am young, I can do anything!’ But even though needs are greater than ever, less than 1% of refugees worldwide are ever resettled.”
UNHCR’s Representative to Rwanda, Ahmed Baba Fall, said, ‘The Burundian and Congolese refugee crises remain two of the most chronically underfunded in the world. High profile visits like Gugu’s help to shine a light on these forgotten crises by amplifying the voices of those who have been forced to flee to ensure they are not forgotten.