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Building the economy within Rwanda's refugee camps

An aerial view of Rwanda's Gihembe refugee camp. Gihembe is home to about 12,904 Congolese refugees.

The movement of people across and within borders around the world has been significant in the past decade. 

In fact, the United Nations estimates there to be over 89.3 million refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) worldwide, with 5 million refugees in East Africa alone. Often, movement is a result of conflict or instability, with people leaving their homes in search of safety. 

When the Rwandan Genocide ended in 1994 and the Rwandan Patriotic Front took control of the country, those who had fled were encouraged to return home. In the years since, more than 3.4 million Rwandan refugees have returned home, and people are still crossing the border back into Rwanda today. As situations constantly change across East Africa, Rwanda now hosts more than 170,000 refugees in 6 camps scattered across the country, home to Congolese and Burundian refugees. Hostilities in the DRC in 2012-2013 and security issues following the Burundian election in 2015 have forced thousands to flee to Rwanda for safety. 

Read more: Burundian refugee Jacqueline rebuilt her life with a soap business

Making a living in a new environment

Bosco has been living in Rwanda for over 20 years and runs a successful business.

Conditions for people in Rwanda’s 6 refugee camps vary greatly. Some have just arrived into camps and need immediate support for food, shelter and other necessities. Others, like those living in the Gihembe refugee camp, have been refugees for more than 20 years. This means that their needs are more concentrated on building a sustainable source of income to be self-sufficient in the long term, like finding funding for their small businesses. Financial access can provide a lifeline to refugees who have been displaced for many years.

This includes entrepreneurs like Bosco, who is from the DRC, but came to Rwanda as a refugee in 1997. In his time here, Bosco has worked tirelessly to make ends meet - driving taxis & tailoring. His most successful venture to date has been selling chapatis and samosas, East African food staples. With a $375 loan from Kiva, powered by 7 lenders, Bosco was able to grow his business by developing a more robust accounting system for keeping track of his stock. 

Make a loan to a refugee like Bosco today

Providing support in the ways it matters most

“The intention is to connect refugees with the tools and skills necessary to enable them to become self-sufficient and independent entrepreneurs to improve their own livelihoods”

Numerous organizations, like the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) provide immediate humanitarian assistance to refugees in Rwanda and beyond. Other local organizations, like Kiva Lending Partner Inkomoko, provide business and entrepreneurial support. Inkomoko is a collection of business accelerators that support local entrepreneurs to drive job growth, providing business training and microcredit programs in Rwanda’s refugee camps. 

“The intention is to connect refugees with the tools and skills necessary to enable them to become self-sufficient and independent entrepreneurs to improve their own livelihoods” says Jullienne Oyler, CEO of Inkomoko.

In 2017, Inkomoko contributed to creating more than 2,600 jobs in Rwanda both within camps and in urban centers. In fact, of the new jobs created by refugee entrepreneurs, approximately 900 went to other refugees, while 1,700 jobs went to Rwandans in host communities. Refugee entrepreneurs demonstrate that they have a positive and significant impact on the economic development of their host country. 

Learn more about the kind of support refugees need to help build their economies here.

Loans can propel businesses forward

Bahati has employed 5 people to work at her restaurant & catering business.

As businesses pop up and a bustling economy emerges within refugee camps, loans are often the puzzle piece that helps entrepreneurs grow their businesses. 

Bahati, from Nyabiheke refugee camp in Rwanda’s northern province is a budding entrepreneur gaining serious traction thanks in part to Inkomoko’s training and credit programs. She runs a restaurant and catering business, a venture that has been propelled in the past 2 years with a $1200 loan from 16 Kiva lenders. Bahati now has 5 employees and has built a shed to store overstock produce. Bahati explains that Kiva’s loans have enabled her to increase liquidity, and this means that she can increase her stock levels and buy more inventory when she makes the 3 hour trip to Kigali to stock up.

As refugee populations live and work amongst political instability, the time has never been more right to lend a helping hand. Kiva lenders around the world who have lent to borrowers like Bahati have enabled Lending Partner Inkomoko to establish, manage, and grow their important and impactful credit program in Rwanda.

Lend to a refugee today

About the author

Tara Patwardhan

Tara is the content & storytelling intern at Kiva. Here, she supports Kiva’s storytelling initiatives by sourcing inspiring stories to share with the world. Born and raised in the Bay Area in California, Tara has interests in cross-cultural communication, language, and content design. In her free time, you can find her exploring new hiking trails and national parks, going to concerts, and attempting to try out new recipes.