When adopted the new United Nations High commission for Refugees policy on alternatives to camps is expected to bring about both social and economic impacts to Rwanda.
Rwanda expects to fully role out the policy 2020 according to Séraphine Mukantabana, the minister of disaster management.
She said that if this policy is adopted will ensure that refugees in Rwanda enjoy rights similar to those of Rwandan citizens.
Mukantabana also noted that bringing refugees to the point where they can achieve sustainable livelihoods requires comprehensive support over a period of time.
The “Alternatives to Camps” policy which commits member states to actively pursue alternatives to camps whenever possible.
The policy states that camps should be a last resort rather than the default response to refugee influxes, and has been widely welcomed by the refugee rights community as representing a major, if overdue, shift in the agency’s approach.
The policy is set to be adapted by several countries after the recent United Nations General Assembly where they adopted the New York declaration on refugees. The declaration gives all the UNGA members two years to negotiate their strategies and obligations on the refugee crisis.
According to UNHCR refugee camps are not only better for refugees, but can also produce better outcomes for local economies and host communities.
Implemented effectively, the agenda will help to alleviate extreme poverty, sustain peace, increase local opportunity, combat climate change and address many of the root causes driving people from their homes.
Mukantabana says that alternatives to the camps’ approaches could benefit host communities, for example by allowing aid agencies to invest more in local infrastructure instead of funding parallel service delivery systems in camps.
A recent study from Uganda shows that the majority of refugees who gained permission to live and work outside designated refugee settlements, found ways to sustain themselves without aid.
The study also indicates that refugees come with assets and many have a lot of human potential that can help stimulate the economy.
If this bill is passed by the Rwandan parliament will give refugees what refugees needed -the right to work, the right to send their kids to school.
The policy will give them rights to be able to rebuild their lives in dignity. And that requires government buy-in.
While addressing the General Assembly last week, Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame affirmed the country’s commitment towards the issue citing that Rwanda will continue to play its role in ensuring refugees receive equal human rights.
‘’The issue of refugees should be treated with compassion and consistency and should not only become a crisis when the wealthier nations are affected,” he said.
Although some countries have been skeptical about the policy citing dangers such as high levels of unemployment, the deputy C.E.O of the Private sector federation Gerard Mukubu Nkusi believes that this might be a solution to the challenge of lack of skilled labour faced by members of the federation.
“Some refugees have the required skill set yet we have skills gap in sectors such as manufacturing and energy sectors. Giving them this empowerment is complementary to our needs,” he said.
Mukantabana says that the policy is still in a draft format and will be implemented as soon as it is adopted by the cabinet.
Before the declaration, the government of Rwanda had embarked on empowering some of the refugees such as those in Mahama camp by facilitating them to engage in economical activities such as the making of handicrafts.
Plans are also underway to set up a university in Mahama refugee camp this year so that refugee students get access to university education.
According to Saber Azam, the UNHCR country representative the university is expected to be operational by the end of the year.