22 January 2016

Africa: Davos Forum - Nations Call for Economic Zones for Refugees

Nations at the forefront of refugee crises have called for the establishment of special economic zones for displaced persons so they are entitled to economic privileges in host countries.

Speaking at the ongoing World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the leaders called for new solutions such as preferential trade access for refugee-made goods and private sector involvement.

There are now a record 60 million refugees around the world, 85 per cent of them hosted by developing countries that require help from the international community.

Rwanda is one of the countries affected by refugee crises having experienced an influx of more than 74,000 refugees from Burundi over the last eight months alone.

And for years now, the country has also been home to more than 70,000 other refugees, almost all from DR Congo.

Seraphine Mukantabana, the minister for disaster management and refugee affairs, said Rwanda is doing its part by working hard to see that the refugees are protected and enjoy their rights.

"Refugees are allowed rights just like the nationals. They can attend the same schools, and employment opportunities as long as they are qualified. We are using advocacy to help them access decent opportunities," Mukantabana told The New Times.

She said refugees can freely access education from any school in the country, can access land, health care, among other things.

Every refugee camp has a health centre where health issues can be handled.

The ministry is mainly focusing efforts on advocacy to different international organisations in order to see that the refugees can get the necessary humanitarian assistance, according to the minister.

Rwanda is also partnering with several organisations to achieve better livelihood for the refugees, she said.

"We are doing advocacy for them to get humanitarian support from the several organisations. We work hand in hand with different organisations such as the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), World Food Programme (WFP), among others, to see that the refugees are well catered for," Mukantabana said.

Humanitarian impact bonds

In Davos, Peter Maurer, the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said humanitarian impact bonds will be launched as an innovative way to finance development projects for refugees.

The Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs said there are programmes in place with the help of UNHCR.

For instance, in collaboration with WFP, a scheme has been initiated in Gihembe Refugee Camp in Gicumbi District, to give cash to the refugees instead of food so that they can have the chance of starting small scale business.

Other programmes in place include the Kepler University Programme initiative in Kiziba Refugee Camp in Karongi District through which refugees can register and study from American universities.

Participants at the 2016 World Economic Forum also noted that the private sector has a key role to play.

"What we face is really a global issue," said Mehmet Simsek, deputy prime minister of Turkey. "It's a global problem that requires a global solution."

Antoine Manzi, the director of capacity building and entrepreneurship at Private Sector Federation, told The New Times that the private sector also has put in place programmes to see that refugees are not left out.

In Gicumbi, he said, businesses have been set up strictly offering employment to refugees.

He added that by working hand-in-hand with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, the private sector expects to extend the programme to other areas with refugees and to come up with more initiatives to help them.

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