Over 12,500 Congolese refugees in Gihembe camp in Gicumbi district have committed to embrace income generating activities following the recent 25 per cent reduction in food rations.
When Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees visited Gihembe Camp for Congolese refugees in Rwanda last week end, he was welcomed by many complaints including the fact that currently they each receive Rwf180 as food ration per day while one cubic meter of fire firewood is shared by 20 people.
The refugees said the ration means one person is fed on only Rwf5,700 per month, the situation that has triggered harsh conditions of poor nutrition, teenage and unwanted pregnancies for girls and family collapsing as girls and women seek support from the outside to survive.
However, one person who is not complaining much is Rubingo Iburisho, his wife and five children who have started income generating activities to cope with the crisis.
The 50-year old fled wars and violence caused by different armed groups in North Kivu in Republic Democratic of Congo and arrived in Rwanda in 2007.
"I was farmer and when I arrived in Rwanda I could cultivate and carry goods on my head to earn extra because a family of seven cannot survive on the little food rations we get," he said.
The family was in Nyabiheke camp in Eastern Province where after completing training in 'carpentry' they were relocated to Gihembe camp in 2013.
"I would work for other carpenters around the camp because I had no capital to start my own business. When I came to Gihembe camp, I got an idea of setting up my own enterprise. I started by using firewood they gave us for cooking and use my machete and few inefficient materials to make chairs and beds from logs of firewood. One day I made sitting room furniture which I sold for Rwf40,000 hat became my investment capital," he narrated to Sunday Times.
He currently makes beds, wardrobes, chairs, tables and others.
"I earn about Rwf150,000 every month .But if I get modern equipment and electricity, the profit could double. Two of my children completed secondary school and I have also trained them in carpentry and my wife also varnishes the furniture I make," he said adding that he employs five workers who are each paid Rwf25, 000 every month
His wife spends part of the generated income and sells 25 kg of fish every day buying a kilo at Rwf2,000 and selling it at Rwf2,500.
The business helps her to earn over Rwf5,000 profit every day after deducting transportation cost for the fish.
Rubingo says lack of refrigerators limits his wife's business and only purchases fish for the day, He added that lack of electricity in his small workshop limits him from using efficient machines.
"Currently I go outside the camp and hire machines for refining and cutting planks because they need electricity. I pay Rwf3,000 whenever I use them. If I get electricity my profit could double because I would buy them and use them in my own workshop. Fortunately, the Mayor has agreed to help me connect to electricity and one of the microfinance institutions has pledged to give me Rwf800,000 loan to buy one of the machines I need," he said.
UNHCR commissioner emphasizes self-reliance projects
Filippo Grandi told the refugees that more innovative approaches were being developed to be able to help refugees become self-reliant as a means of coping with funding cut.
"We need innovative materials to find solutions for refugees' needs. We are talking to World Food Programme about food aid and ways of building self-reliant capacity. It is now 20 years refugees are here and therefore they need employment opportunities and access to other social services" he said.
De Bonheur Jeanne d'Arc, Rwanda's Minister for Disasters and Refugees (MIDMAR), said there were different measures in place to find sustainable solutions to refugees' issues adding that scaling up vocational training was one of solutions.
The Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs and UN agencies are currently scaling up implementation of a Joint Strategy on Economic Inclusion of Refugees to enable more of them to become self-reliant and contribute to the economic development of their host communities.
The joint initiatives target to support the government to graduate 18,000 camp-based refugees from food and/or cash for food assistance programmes by mid-2018 while the strategy will also strive to create access to formal employment opportunities for up to 60,000 refugees and have a similar number using banking services by mid-2018.
It requires US$2.5 million every month to provide ful food or cash assistance to over 170,000 refugees in Rwanda.World Food Programme says if it receives no new funds, further reductions in cash and food may be necessary in coming months.
As of December 2017, UNHCR had secured only 19 percent of its total funding needs, amounting to US$ 20.3 million out of US$ 104.5 million needed to invest in comprehensive solutions to refugees.