Caritas Internationalis Restoring Dignity of Thousands of Burundian Refugees in Rwanda

Mahama Refugee Camp in Rwanda.

The leadership of the global confederation of Catholic relief agencies, Caritas Internationalis (CI), is helping restore the dignity of Burundian refugees in Rwanda’s Mahama Refugee Camp by striving toward their self-dependence.

CI is supporting the refugees as part of its three-year €380,000 program launched in the summer of 2020 in view of assisting the refugees at the camp, CI leadership reported November 11.

Estimated to be over 50,000, the refugees fled their country and settled in Rwanda following the 2015 unrest after the late President Pierre Nkurunzinza announced that he would vie for a third term.

Other Burundians have been settled in the neighboring countries of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Uganda and Tanzania.

The leadership of the Rome-based aid agency is facilitating small business startups for women groups.


“We know that with a small amount of help, people can gain autonomy and enjoy a dignified life where they can earn enough money to take care of their families,” CI’s officials say in the November 11 report obtained by ACI Africa.

Among the beneficiaries of the program is Kayirangwa Emeline, a single parent of eight children who now lives in the refugee camp after fleeing the conflict in her own country.

“I was always in debt because I never had enough money to feed my large family. I looked at my children, hungry and without clothes, and I didn’t know what to do,” Ms. Kayirangwa has been quoted as saying in the report.

Amid successful repatriation of some Burundian refugees, Ms. Kayirangwa is among those still struggling to make ends meet at the Mahama refugee camp in Rwanda’s Kibungo Diocese.

Aware of her struggles, the leadership of CI reached out to Ms. Kayirangwa, offering her a loan that enabled her to start a business of selling goat meat. She has been able to undertake the business successfully owing to the experience gained from working as a vendor back in her home country, Burundi.

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“Within six months, business was booming and Kayirangwa was able to buy a cow, whose milk she could sell but also use to nourish her children, and a motorbike to help her transport her goods,” CI officials recount in their November 11 report.

They add, “Life changed for Kayirangwa and her family and her children were no longer hungry and without clothes.”

According to Ngarambe Vanson, a Caritas Rwanda staff member who works at the refugee camp with a women microfinance group through which Kayirangwa got the loan, “just a small amount of financial support has made a world of difference to the women.”

“Caritas chose families who were in the greatest difficulty to help them develop a livelihood and gain some independence,” Mr. Ngarambve says of the criteria used to select the beneficiaries of the lending initiative. 

The Caritas official adds referencing the beneficiaries, “You can see that their lives have changed even their attitudes. They are able to take care of their families without ever being in debt like before. The children are clean, healthy and smiling, which was not the case before.”


However, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to the collapse of Kayirangwa’s business. As a way forward, the leadership of the 123-year-old aid agency is seeking support from well-wishers to help her and others in a similar situation rebuild their businesses, which will enable them live in dignity.

Through the three-year program, officials of the 162-member confederation are also reaching out to the elderly at the Mahama camp, “ensuring they are fed and taken care of.”

“We’re enabling people to farm by providing seeds and tools,” Caritas officials say in the November 11 report, adding, “All efforts are focused on making farming as environmentally friendly as possible.”

Through the program, the mentally challenged, including those who are yet to recover from past human rights abuses are helped to move on.

Caritas officials are also training mediators to facilitate peacebuilding initiatives at the camp, they note in the report and making reference to the words of Pope Paul VI add, “Development is the new word for peace.”

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“We want to support the community in Mahama camp to rebuild their lives, reinforcing long term development plans for restoring dignity,” CI officials say.

In the November 11 report, the official go on to acknowledge with appreciation the support of partners who have supported Kayirangwa and the people in Mahama camp over the past few years, enabling their small businesses to grow and their autonomy to increase in a way that “really improves their lives.”

“In this time of pandemic, solidarity is not just an option, but it is the best way for delivering hope and opportunities to those struggling the most,” CI officials say.

Founded on November 9, 1897 by German Fr. Lorenz Werthmann, Caritas Internationalis shares the mission of the Catholic Church to serve the poor and to promote charity and justice throughout the world.