Published Friday , on 6 October 2017, 17:02:14 by Christophe Hitayezu

Kigali, Rwanda – 04 October 2017: The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) signed an agreement with the World Food Programme (WFP) and Equity Bank Rwanda committing the three agencies to collaborate to provide cash-based assistance in lieu of in kind support for refugees living in camps in Rwanda. Today Rwanda is hosting over 170,000 refugees from the Democratic Republic of C ongo, Burundi and other countries, 80% of whom are living in six refugee camps managed by the Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs (MIDIMAR) and UNHCR. In these camps refugees are dependent upon humanitarian assistance, and it is hoped that today’s agreement to deliver aid in the form of cash will reduce dependency on aid but also contribute to host community economies and trade.

“Refugee camps in Rwanda are places where refugees have access to markets and services in the same way that Rwandans do. Providing refugees with cash will enable families to fulfil their needs in a more dignified manner by determining for themselves what their priorities are, and will also enable refugees to contribute to the growth of economy of the host communities, even more than they already do,” said UNHCR Representative in Rwanda Mr. Ahmed Baba Fall.

Together with partners, WFP Rwanda is already providing food assistance using cash based transfers (CBTs) to over 72,000 people in five camps hosting Congolese refugees. CBTs were first introduced to Rwanda through a pilot in Gihembe refugee camp in January 2014 and then scaled up to other camps: Nyabiheke, Kigeme, Kiziba and latterly Mugombwa camp which received CBTs as of September 2017.

Until now, UNHCR has been providing refugees with in-kind support, providing shelter, water, sanitation facilities and distributing to all families kitchen sets, jerry cans, blankets, hygiene items and other supplies. Through the new agreement, UNHCR will replace this in-kind support with cash, so that refugees can buy the items they need in the local markets. Under the new program UNHCR will provide cash for all refugees in Nyabiheke refugee camp, while in Kigeme and Gihembe UNHCR will provide cash only those refugees who opt for it, while families who prefer to continue receiving in-kind support will have this choice. Eventually, UNHCR aims to shift from in-kind support to cash throughout the refugee response operation.

UNHCR has employed cash-based assistance since mid-80s in different countries where UNHCR works, and over the years it has proven to have a significant impact on refugees’ independence, dignity, and ability to contribute to the local community as economic actors. “When refugees receive cash, it ensures they have the means to meet their basic needs, while enhancing dignity and choice in their respective refugee communities as well as boosting trade in the surrounding communities,” said Baba Fall.

Since 2015, WFP uses a multiple wallet credit card, which has been considered the best solution in terms of characteristics and potential opportunities vis-a-vis current and future CBT operations. The card was introduced and continues to be used in commercial partnership with Equity Bank. It has multiple wallets, up to 9 maximum, and each wallet can be used by different agencies, such as UNHCR which is joining the platform through today’s agreement. The multiple wallet is a more innovative solution and though new on the market, it has been tried and tested in larger operations in Kenya, Jordan and Lebanon with positive results.

A study carried out in 2015 by WFP and the University of California Davis revealed that the presence of refugees in Rwanda has a positive effect on the local economy. The study further proved that host communities draw even greater economic benefits when refugee assistance is delivered in the form of cash, rather than in-kind. For every US dollar provided to a refugee through cash, up to $1.95 is infused into the local economy. Refugees are contributing to Rwanda’s rural development, and their capacity to do so will be enhanced through the cash based transfer system.

Through this programme, refugees will receive in monthly installments cash based on the market value of non-food Items distributed by UNHCR and household size. By receiving cash, refugees will also have greater opportunity to pursue livelihoods opportunities in line with the joint Government-UNHCR Strategy for Economic Inclusion of Refugees (see here).

Equity bank Rwanda started in 2011, currently have 13 branches and more than 1500 agents across the country, Equity bank Rwanda came in agreement with WFP and UNHCR to provide solution of cash assistance by issuing multiple card wallet up to 9 maximum, and each wallet can be used by different agencies. Bank is embarked on technology using master card and BIO POS terminal. Bank is participating in this programme of cash assistance as part of helping needy people by availing financial inclusion in 5 camps (Gihembe, Nyabiheke, Kigeme, Kiziba and Mugombwa) card have got capacity to transact across the country with Equity Agents, ATM machine, and over the counter.