Congolese refugees camp at UN refugee office in Rwanda, protest food cuts


Refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo carry their belongings as they walk near the the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) offices in Kiziba refugee camp in Karongi District, Rwanda February 21, 2018.

KARONGI, Rwanda - Anti-riot police in western Rwanda on Wednesday surrounded at least 3,000 Congolese refugees who had camped at a United Nations refugee office overnight to protest reduced food rations at their camp.

On Tuesday the refugees said soldiers had shot at them and wounded at least two people when around 2,000 people from among the 17,000 living at Kiziba camp in western Rwanda marched out of the camp to protest against a 25 percent cut that began last month in rations provided by the UN refugee agency.

UNHCR said last month it was cutting rations due to funding shortages.

Police asked refugees to leave the UNHCR office in Karongi town, 15 km from the camp, but they refused.

"We cannot go back to the camp," Assiel Mutabazi, 22, told Reuters. "Everyone here is frightened since we are surrounded by armed police officers."

Rwanda hosts some 174,000 refugees, including 57,000 people from neighbouring Burundi who fled violence in 2015. Most of the rest fled the Democratic Republic of Congo during various bouts of instability there over the past 20 years.

"Our children are hungry and we have nothing to give them,” said Esperance, a mother of four whose husband died as they fled violence in eastern Congo in the late 1990s.

"They should return to the camp or go home if they want but they cannot camp at the UNHCR office," Jeanne d&39;Arc DeBonheur, the minister for Disaster Management and Refugees Affairs told Reuters by phone.

UNHCR representatives in Kigali and the agency&39;s Geneva headquarters did not immediately respond to requests for comment.