The U.N. refugee agency is calling on Rwandan authorities to investigate police culpability in the deaths of at least five Congolese refugees during a recent protest of food ration cuts.
The deadly confrontation took place Thursday when some 700 Congolese refugees from the Kiziba refugee camp were demonstrating outside the U.N. refugee agency’s office in Karongi, in western Rwanda.
UNHCR spokeswoman Cecile Pouilly says the situation got out of hand after police reportedly used tear gas to disperse the protesters and shots were fired. She says that resulted in several deaths and injuries among both the refugees and members of the police force.
“We regret that our continued appeals for maintaining calm and restraints were not heard. This tragedy should have been avoided. Disproportionate use of force against desperate refugees is not acceptable. UNHCR calls on authorities to refrain from further use of force and to investigate the circumstances of this tragic incident,” she said.
Pouilly blames much of the unrest on underfunding, which is severely affecting humanitarian operations in Rwanda. She tells VOA lack of money forced the World Food Program to reduce food rations for refugees by 10 percent in November, followed by another cut of 25 percent in January.
“These people are not only desperate over the lack of food. They are also desperate because of the lack of prospective (future). Some of them have been there for 20 years. There is very little hope for them. There is a great sense of despair. Many of them have been born in the camp and they see no future,” Pouilly said.
Kiziba refugee camp hosts more than 17,000 refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo. More than 173,000 refugees from the DRC and Burundi live in six camps in Rwanda.
Pouilly says she fears more violence could be in the offing if refugee needs are not met. She notes the UNHCR has received only two percent of its $99 million appeal for humanitarian operations in Rwanda this year.