Libyan asylum seekers at the Gashora Transit Centre have welcomed the decision by their caretakers to pay them a monthly stipend, which they say has improved their livelihoods and made their stay comfortable.
Mario Gabra strolls through the Gashora trading centre of Kanzayire as he chats with two other asylum seekers, holding groceries, supplies he has just bought from a nearby shop.
He says in Libya they faced atrocities and life had become unbearable back home, forcing them to seek refuge elsewhere.
“I came to Rwanda in the second batch in October 2019, Rwanda is a fascinating country, the people are warm, we faced a language barrier but we are coping slowly,” he said. “We told UNHCR that we needed some money to take care of some of our needs and they started giving us a monthly stipend to buy basic necessities like clothes, toothbrush and other things.”
“We earn between Rwf50,000 and 100,000, and it has been a huge relief,” he added.
The lakeside community of Gashora have embraced them as traders say the refugees have boosted business in the area.
Muhire Christian runs a mini-supermarket in Kanzayire center, it is the nearest shop to the transit center.
He says being a rural area many residents of Gashora have been migrating to urban and commercially active places, but since the refugees started earning a monthly pay, there has been new life breathed into the businesses in the area.
“They used to come and buy a few things even before, but around April I started noticing a change, the quantities and varieties they bought increased”
“They don’t save any money, everything they earn is spent, largely in the businesses around, if they earn lets say Rwf30million in total in a month, save for a few who could go a bit far to buy things, a big chunk of their pay is spent here” he observed.
He says that from a business standpoint “their existence in this community has greatly impacted my business.”
Responding about the cash-based assistance rendered to the refugees, Elise Laura Villechalane, the UNHCR external relations officer said: “Some refugees accepted to receive basic assistance in cash instead of in kind. This allows them to cover their needs more independently and to buy the basic items they need in the market, for example families with children can buy milk powder or nappies,” she said.
The outbreak of Covid-19 and the subsequent grounding of passenger airlines frustrated the plans to transfer some of the asylum seekers to the third countries that had allowed taking them in.
Countries like Canada, Sweden and Norway have pledged to host some of the refugees, and the most recent batch of 27 were transferred to Sweden in February, shortly before Covid19 became ubiquitous.
Rwanda made the commitment to host up to 500 African refugees trapped in Libya after their desperate and perilous journeys were cut short when European nations stepped up migrant controls.