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Refugees Protest Under Coronavirus Lockdown in Rwanda

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VOA 17 APR 2020

Rwanda’s coronavirus lockdown has led to a protest by refugees and migrants who were relocated to the country last year from crowded detention camps in Libya, witnesses said.

They gathered in their camp on Wednesday to organize a demonstration against the lockdown “but authorities came in quickly and stopped it,” Elise Villechalane, spokeswoman with the U.N. refugee agency, told The Associated Press.

Nearly 300 refugees and migrants are living in the Gashora emergency transit center outside the capital, Kigali. Rwanda took them in under an agreement  signed with the United Nations and African Union after repeated allegations of dire conditions in Libya’s detention centers including beatings, rapes and other abuses.

Some refugees had been screened and approved to move to countries such as Norway or Canada — the first large group was resettled in February — but virus-related travel restrictions have stranded the others for now.

Rwanda was the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to issue a lockdown and recently extended it, to some anxiety.  

“We understand these refugees are stressed and some still have trauma from Libya, but they have to abide by these measures like other Rwandans,” Villechalane said. The refugee agency said it and Rwanda’s government had printed posters in multiple languages with coronavirus messaging.

Residents who live near the transit center said the refugees and migrants exchanged bitter words with camp authorities.  

“Some of the refugees said they should be allowed to go back home to the countries of their origin,” Jean Claude Habananimana, who coaches a football team for the refugees and migrants, told the AP.  
Before the coronavirus spread to Rwanda, they had been allowed to go out and play football with neighboring communities as well as go to church or the mosque.

“They cannot go to Europe either,” Habananimana said. “Now their lives are confined in one place.”

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