Five Congolese nationals were killed Thursday as the Rwandan police and army used live ammunition to disperse refugees who had spent three days camped outside the offices of the U.N. refugee agency in western Rwanda, the country's police announced Friday.
According to a statement issued by police, “We used proportional force that left 20 rioters and seven police officers injured. They were rushed to hospital. Five rioters unfortunately succumbed to their wounds."
Police said they also arrested 15 refugees, accusing them of staging illegal demonstrations, taking hostages and inciting violence.
Refugees say the number of deaths could be higher than announced by the police.
On Thursday, the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR called for calm and restraint following reports of a protest turning violent in Rwanda’s Kiziba refugee camp.
The camp in the Karongi district houses more than 17,000 refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The protesters were reportedly angry about a recent 25 percent reduction in food assistance.
“Refugee protection and safety is our top priority,” Ahmed Baba Fall, the UNHCR representative in Rwanda, said in a statement Friday.
The refugees are demanding to be resettled in another country. If that does not happen, they say, they will walk back into the DRC.
“Refugees have the right to return to their country whenever they wish. But we urge refugees to make an informed decision and not to listen to misinformation or rumors,” said Baba Fall.
Rwanda hosts more than 173,000 refugees in six camps, including Kiziba, where some Congolese have lived for more than 20 years.