GENEVA, Feb. 23 (Xinhua) -- UN refugee agency UNHCR on Friday said it is "shocked and disturbed" after protests led to the deaths of at least five refugees and injuries to many others including police forces members in Rwanda.
Spokesperson Cecile Pouilly said at a UN briefing here that UNHCR is urging authorities in Rwanda to ensure safety and protection for refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo's (DR Congo) after protests about food rations on Thursday led to the deaths.
She said around 700 Congolese refugees from Kiziba refugee camp had been demonstrating outside the UNHCR field office in Karongi, western Rwanda.
"The protests, ongoing since Feb. 20, were related to food ration cuts that have added to the refugees' sense of despair and lack of long-term prospective," said Pouilly.
Police were reported to have used teargas to disperse the protesters, after attempts to resolve the situation had failed and clashes were reported.
"We regret that our continued appeals for maintaining calm and restraint were not considered. This tragedy should have been avoided and disproportionate use of force against desperate refugees is not acceptable," said Pouilly.
UNHCR is calling on authorities to refrain from further use of force and to investigate the circumstances of this tragic incident.
Pouilly noted that underfunding has severely affected humanitarian operations in Rwanda, now with deadly consequences. UNHCR's 2018 appeal for 98.8 million U.S. dollars to support refugees in Rwanda is only 2 percent funded.
Over 173,000 refugees live in six camps in Rwanda. Kiziba refugee camp hosts over 17,000 refugees from DR Congo.