The recent surge in fighting in the Kivu region of eastern DRC, between various rebel factions, army mutineers and the national army, has caused hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes. While most are displaced within DRC, more than 15,000 have crossed the border into Rwanda since the end of April.
About 90 percent of these are still hosted in Nkamira, a transit camp in the north-western part of Rwanda, which was initially designed to host 5,000 people at most. The recent influx means the camp has been stretched to almost three times its limit – it now contains 13,236 people, and it’s still growing. At the start it was mostly women and children who were crossing into Rwanda, but in the past month we’ve seen more men coming over to join their families. There are rumours they are fleeing to avoid being coerced into military groups involved in the conflict.
The situation in Nkamira is, for now, manageable, but the overcrowding means it is proving difficult to meet the international humanitarian standards. The longer that conflict persists in the Kivus, the more overwhelming the refugee crisis could become.
Oxfam is carrying out activities to promote public health and sanitation in Nkamira. The mounting pressure on facilities in the camp makes public health promotion essential. Oxfam is building latrines; distributing sanitary kits – especially to adolescent and adult women; setting up hand-washing stations; distributing utensils such as jerry cans, buckets and basins, to help families safely collect and store water; and training refugees on good hygiene and sanitation practices. Some refugees are trained as latrine attendants, ensuring they are kept clean.
This has helped prevent outbreaks of water-related diseases such as cholera and diarrhoea, and keep cases under control.
On last week’s World Refugee Day, about 900 people attended events in the camp aiming to promote good hygiene practices through poetry, songs, drama, dance and even karate.
The refugees in Nkamira transit camp are awaiting transfer to a new camp set up in Kigeme in the southwest of the country, to ease the overcrowding. This new camp just opened in mid-June, and 1,500 refugees were transferred in the first week. Oxfam is also providing aid there.
Oxfam’s work in Rwanda specialises in supporting the livelihoods of small-scale farmers, and developing women’s role in the economy, rather than responding to humanitarian emergencies. But given the immediate needs we decided to send technical teams to Nkamira and Kigeme. We aim to set up the water, sanitation and hygiene systems in the camps, and then hopefully by early September we aim to hand the operations over to other agencies. Careful assessment will be done to see who we can handover to and how we can phase out our response.
With no indication of the Kivu conflict ending soon, there are fears that the Kigeme camp will also quickly fill up.