“Refugees are not the problem, but they have problems”.

Our first information session of the rights of refugees took place yesterday on Sunday February 14th, 2021 in Kituku – Goma. We greatly thank our sister partner organization in Kituku that hosted this session, which brought together 25 refugees from Rwanda and Burundi. Among them 10 women and one girl and the rest were men with only two young people.

A registration list was made and after the session a Whatsup Group was put in place in order to continue with the discussions on refugee issues here in Goma. In case you wish to be part of this group, please contact us on this Whatsup Number: +256758197767.

Background Information 

Goma is the Touristic Capital City of North Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo, it is estimated to have around more than one million people. Goma is just on the border with Rwanda and it is built on the shore of Lake Kivu. While the entire province of North Kivu hosts refugees from Sudan, South Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi and currently from Uganda, Goma the city hosts refugees from Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda according to refugees.

It is estimated that around 3,200 refugees are living in Goma but these statistics are not credible because many refugees are not yet identified and many are not even registered by both the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the Congolese National Commission for Refugees. The issue of invisible refugees’ remains common in D.R.Congo and unfortunately all actors are not doing enough to address this, it is estimated that a total number of 550,000 refugees are in D.R.Congo but we believe the country should have more than 1,000,000 refugees.

Goma is the base of various International Humanitarian Organizations among them those who have refugee agenda but very few are visible in the lives of refugees both in Goma and in North Kivu, many questions remain why the priority is given to Internally Displaced Persons and leave out refugees.

In Goma it is believed that only 50 refugees get the humanitarian assistance while the other live on their own, we do not have yet information from UNHCR why other refugees are not supported. During our meeting with CNR officials it was not clear why they are not ensuring that all refugees get humanitarian aid.

Political environment 

Our Information Session Programme started yesterday on tension and threats between us the authorities from the Congolese National Commission for Refugees commonly known as (CNR), which believes that nothing should be done on refugees without their permission and for them permission is to filter what should be told to refugees and in this CNR is not comfortable with the issue of refugee rights because it will make refugees to over demand. One among the strategies used here in D.R.Congo against refugees is ignorance towards refugees, we believe that it is impossible to protect an ignorant person.

D.R.Congo has maintained a low profile on the issues of refugees inside the country and little has been to lobby to the international community for support in what is prescribed as “responsibility sharing” and this is viewed as a failure to protect refugees. D.R.Congo advances always the excuses of “sovereignty of the state” on refugee issues yet sovereignty means to abide with international obligations, to do what is good and to support people in need.

However other reasons may include the lobbying from Rwanda and Burundi which makes pressure to show that there are few refugees in D.R.Congo and this for Diplomatic reasons. In D.R.Congo most of all those who are involved in refugees affairs are put in place by the former regime and they still incarnate the same views and political language towards refugees that means to discourage them to stay in D.R.Congo, to deny that there are credible reasons why refugees should run away and only focus on their repatriation as the only solution.

Recommendations

D.R.Congo should officially engage with the International Community in order to mobilize enough funds which can address urgent needs of refugees,

All refugees in D.R.Congo should be identified and well registered but also issued identification cards for their easy movements,

The protection of refugees should be among the items of the Congolese Diplomacy with its neighbors especially the commitment of D.R.Congo to protect each refugees on humanitarian ground,

D.R.Congo government should urgently reform the National Commission for Refugees (CNR) and put in place a new policy which focuses on the protection of refugees,

There is urgent need for trainings and capacity building of various actors who are on contact with refugees on refugee rights and on international commitments D.R.Congo is part.

The Information session 

The session started at 9:30 am with 25 refugees, and three members of the Global Refugee Leaders Forum. The session was a briefing on Human Rights and refugee rights, which also explored the content of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the United Nations 1951 Convention on Refugees and the Congolese Law on refugees of 2002.

The session was planned to accommodate 20 people but more came and that was not so bad. We had zero funding for this session and therefore it was only for those who can manage. Refugees are scatted in different places and this made the mobilization difficult but we thank those who helped us to identify the participants. The communication is expensive in DRCongo and yet the best way to link up with people is either through a phone call or through a Phone Message, but also this leaves out those who do not own a phone.

While refugees believe they do not have rights in D.R.Congo because there is nothing that gives a glimpse about their rights, the session helped them to understand that human rights are first of all a state of personal consciousness, human rights are earned but not given, it is a daily struggle and not something that already conquered as some may pretend. These bills are not enough if the concerned people are not engaged to stand for their rights.

Participants later on after exchange of information among themselves realized that there some economic and social opportunities which are available for refugees but which many did not know. Refugees have rights to engage in economic activities, and also have the right to Association, they have right to Travel Document and other movements, but also have right to acquire land much as they may not own it among others. These came during the sharing among refugees which also helped others to know better.

The challenge is that many recognized refugees do not even the ID Card yet they need it during their movement and the CNR was not clear on why refugees do not have ID Cards.

However it is was observed that most of vocal refugees are either blacklisted, intimidated or punished to suffer alone by being denied humanitarian aid and this has been used as a lesson to others who would like to stand up for their rights. The actors remain the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the CNR and their Implementing Partners, but also they have put in place refugees who are financially supported in order to track others, these refugees work as intelligence services in order to inform the system which refugee is doing what or even try to organize a meeting with others.

UNHCR like it is the same for many organizations here in Goma is not accessible by so many refugees because they are always blocked from the gate by the security personnel, this is common in Goma, you must have a personal number of the officer and then call him/her when you reach the gate in order to be allowed to enter. This is a big for the most vulnerable and those who cannot have contact with officers.

The issues of perception and labeling of refugees is a high concern among refugees because most of those vocal are quickly considered as mad people and therefore no one is allowed to mix with them or even meet, this is called the “strategy of isolation”. But also it remains difficult to me the UNHCR International Staffs who are believed may have a different way of looking at things.

The protection of refugees is a challenge because some staffs are accused of living in Rwanda but working in D.R.Congo. In order to maintain distance from the reality of refugees some actors brand these refugees as rebels, political actors, militia or Intelligence Service deployed here but some countries in order to monitor what is happening.

On this, cases of refugees in prisons where mentioned among them a refugee who has been sentenced for 20 years in prison on issue in which a laptop was stolen and sold to this refugee young boy of 17 years because he needed to set up a Music Business. The main actors involved in the arrest of refugees remain the Congolese Security Agency and the Congolese Migration Directorate.

A lot was discussed on the use of Police in order to brutalize those who want to demand for their rights or want to express their concerns and this was seen as a strategy often used by UNHCR and with the persecution they go through many have been affected.

 Many refugees feel like they are in Prison here in Goma because they cannot go anywhere just because they do not have the Refugee Identification. Refugees are confronted with lack of adequate medical care, lack of access to education and other opportunities in order to develop.

On the issue of durable solutions: The Resettlement does not exist and there is no clear reason why refugees in North Kivu are excluded, refugees indicated that UNHCR Goma always give them fake pretext on the denial of resettlement, the Local Integration also does not exist what is in place is “self-local integration”, the only option is repatriation which refugees believe is forced because they are not given any other options. Surprisingly a big number of Rwandan refugees in Goma were once repatriated to Rwanda but they came back to persecutions.

Refugees also observed that those who have tried to communicate with UNHCR Geneva have faced so many consequences and threats by the UNHCR local team here in Goma.

In all the discussions the issues of refugees who are not identified was also raised, those who are denied the refugee status, those who have taken more than 10 years waiting for the refugee status, those who are denied humanitarian assistance as tool for force them to return to Rwanda and the ongoing talks on “secession clause” against Rwandan Refugees remain daily concerns of all refugees who participated.

Way forward 

The session ended at 4pm by a word of thanks and appreciation from refugees in which they showed their desire to continue with these sessions, and committed themselves to come back next Sunday. But also indicated that they have fear that our team might be bribed or compromised by UNHCR or the CNR,

They also expressed the desire to have also these sessions together with UNHCR and CNR which should aim at a Dialogue for a common way forward on refugee issues,

The Information is one among our key programs on refugee issues in D.R.Congo and we do commit ourselves to continue sharing the knowledge with all stakeholders including refugees,

We also make ourselves available to share with the stakeholders the commitments of D.R.Congo which the current regime has so far taken towards the protection of refugees,

It is our hope that these sessions will help to push forward the agenda of the refugee protection in D.R.Congo,

The issue of funding remains the big challenge but we shall not stop because there is no money,

We call upon people of good will who would like to join or to donate to our activities to contact us any time they want,

Note: For security reasons, photos are not yet best to take in our various meetings.

Yours faithfully,

Jackson Ntamuzinda

Regional Coordinator / Goma – D.R.Congo

Email: refugeeleadersforum@gmail.com

Whatsup: +256758197767

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Global Refugee Leaders Forum (GRLF) based in North Kivu – D.R. Congo. “Refugees are not the problem but they have problems”.
Promoting Refugee Rights, Quality Leadership, Good Governance, Peace and Democracy and Humanitarian Accountability:  Tel: +243853191163  email: refugeeleadersforum@gmail.com,Tel: +243973704159, Whatsup: +256758197767