WFP support builds resilience and ties with host communities in Rwanda’s refugee camps

World Food Programme Insight
3 min readFeb 14, 2024


Donors like the EU are a lifeline for the conflict-displaced communities

by John Paul Sesonga

WFP provides nutritious porridge to children, pregnant and breast feeding mothers in the transit centre where asylum seekers are temporarily hosted before being transferred to Mahama camp. Photo: WFP/JohnPaul Sesonga

The morning sunlight casts its glow over Mahama camp in eastern Rwanda, sheltering over 63,000 refugees uprooted by violence in neighboring Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Florida, whose real name is being withheld for her protection, is one of them. She’s already at work, preparing breakfast for her family.

Simmering in her cooking pan is a blend of maize grains and beans provided by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), along with fresh green vegetables from her kitchen garden. Nearby, one of her youngest children eagerly anticipates the upcoming meal.

“Since 2022, I have called this camp my second home,” says Florida, who arrived here after fleeing her home village in northeastern DRC’s conflict-torn North Kivu province. “I escaped the bullets and turmoil that have plagued this area for decades.”

Florida’s journey to Rwanda led her through the Nkamira transit centre in the northwest of the country. Welcomed by the Government of Rwanda, she and her children received food and nutritional support from WFP. Even after their transfer to Mahama camp — the largest of Rwanda’s five refugee camps — this lifeline persists.

Asked about the chances of returning home, Florida shakes her head. “I have no hope because fighting is still going on in my village and the entire North Kivu province.”

Currently, Rwanda hosts nearly 135,000 refugees and asylum seekers, primarily from the DRC and Burundi. In camps and transit centres, they depend mainly on WFP food assistance, thanks to financial contributions from partners such as the European Union.

Children eating food near their house in Mahama camp. WFP provides in-kind food assistance to asylum seekers, and cash-based transfers to the most vulnerable refugees in all camps across Rwanda. Photo: WFP/JohnPaul Sesonga

Such funding allows WFP to offer tangible support to the refugees. In 2023 alone, our cash transfers — allowing them to buy food at local markets — injected some US$10.7 million into the local economy. The cash assistance not only allows refugees to decide their food needs, but their purchases — including from local smallholder farmers — also support host communities.

“WFP believes that access to food is a cornerstone for human capital and building resilient communities,” says Andrea Bagnoli, WFP Representative and Country Director. “WFP is grateful for the European Union’s consistent funding, which has helped maintain food assistance to both asylum seekers and refugees hosted by Rwanda.”

Yet despite this and other generous donor support, a funding shortfall for WFP’s Rwanda operations has forced us to cut our cash assistance to the most vulnerable refugees by nearly one-third, although our food distributions remain unaffected. As a result, some refugees may reduce the number of nutritious meals they eat, or steal food from surrounding villages to get by. Such actions would cause friction with host communities, among other detrimental consequences.

Jerome Mutesa, a WFP field monitor participating in food distribution at Nkamira transit Centre. Photo: WFP/JohnPaul Sesonga

This year alone, WFP needs nearly US$22 million (EUR 20.4 million) to sustain life-saving assistance for camp-based refugees and asylum seekers — funds that can help support our activities that foster inter-communal ties and build refugees’ resilience.

Mutesi Jolie preparing her kitchen garden near her house. WFP has supported refugees to construct and maintain kitchen gardens for easy access of green vegetables. WFP also provides nutritious supplementary feeding to prevent and treat malnutrition in all camps. Photo: WFP/Aristide Gatera.

For example, WFP is working with Rwandan authorities and other UN agencies to better integrate refugees into local communities. That includes through WFP school meals, which benefit young pupils from both populations. We also are rolling out income-generating activities like market gardens and raising small livestock including goats, chickens, and rabbits, which builds incomes and self-sufficiency.

Those activities are key for refugees like Florida. For now, her wishes are simple: food to feed her four children and the promise of refugee status, until peace finds its way back to her homeland.