Rwanda has been welcoming refugees for almost three decades. At the end of April 2023, 125,595 refugees and asylum seekers were registered with UNHCR. Predominately refugees come from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Burundi. Out of the total refugee population, 91 per cent live across the five refugee camps of Kigeme, Kiziba, Mugombwa, Nyabiheke and Mahama as well as the Emergency Transit Mechanism (ETM), while the remaining 9 per cent live in urban areas. Gihembe camp was closed in 2021, and its population relocated to Mahama camp.
With the more stabilized political situation in Burundi, Rwanda has continued to observe interest and willingness of Burundian refugees to voluntary return home. Over with 30,000 Burundians have voluntary repatriated (VolRep) since 2020. Currently, almost 50,000 Burundian refugees still live in Rwanda, with 21.7% residing in urban setting, while the remaining are hosted in the Mahama Refugee Camp.
For the Congolese refugees who have lived in Rwanda for over 25 years, the focus remains on their inclusion in national systems and scaling up of livelihoods opportunities so they can graduate from humanitarian assistance and become self-reliant.
Since November 2022, due to the continuous instability in Eastern DRC, Rwanda has also hosted an increasing number of new asylum seekers from DRC. As of mid-May, over 7,144 individuals have arrived in Rwanda.
In addition to its regular refugee response, Rwanda also hosts the Emergency Transit Mechanism (ETM) which was established in September 2019, by UNHCR, in collaboration with the Government of Rwanda (GOR), and the African Union (AU). Its aim is to temporarily host refugees and asylum-seekers who have undertaken voluntary evacuation from Libya while solutions are found. Over 1,600 people have been evacuated to the ETM and almost 1,000 of them subsequently resettled to third countries.
The policy and legal frameworks in Rwanda continue to facilitate the inclusion of refugees within national systems in line with the Global Compact on Refugees. From health to education, refugees are granted the same level of access and services as Rwandan citizens. In recent years this has been facilitated through the issuance of refugee ID cards by the Government of Rwanda and built on by pledges made at the Global Refugee Forum (GRF).
In Rwanda, the Refugee Response Plan (RRP) outlines the interagency response by organizations working on refugee issues across the country. The RRP is tightly aligned to the UN Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework (UNSDCF) and the National Strategic Transformation (NST1) which provides thematic pillars for accelerated transformation and inclusive development for all. UNHCR co-leads the refugee response with the Government of Rwanda through the Ministry in charge of Emergency Management (MINEMA). In 2023, the RRP includes 17 different partners including UN Agencies, NGOs, academia, and development partners.