Brief about our meeting with the congolese National Commission for Refugees CNR D.R.Congo

Meeting between GRLF and Head of of Congolese National Commission for Refugees commonly known as (CNR) in Goma North Kivu on Tuesday February 9th, 2021 at the office of CNR Goma. Initially programmed at 3pm, the meeting started at 4:47 pm. As usual like to all other offices the security deployed at the gate remain a problem, they are not there to facilitate the access to the office but to block those who wish to access. It is like here in Goma in order to access a public offices especially for these NGOs you must be known first of all by someone there, secondly you must have an appointment with the officer and thirdly you must call the officer once at the gate. This does favor access. Objectives 1. To introduce informally the activities of GRLF to the CNR Goma,North Kivu. 2. To find areas for a common advocacy, 3. To understand the views and positions of CNR on the current situation of refugees in D.R.Congo 4. To share the views on our vision of a Congo which is model in refugee protection, 5. Way forward A brief introduction about Jackson and the organization was made in which we explained the reasons why we created this Forum mainly: 1. The influx of refugees mainly from Rwanda, Burundi and other countries who run away from D.R.Congo in order to seek asylum to other countries especially in Uganda, Kenya,Tanzania and Zambia among where they are mostly registered as Congolese refugees and this has often created conflicts among them with Congolese over accessing resources, 2. The need to promote refugees issues in D.R.Congo because the country is only known as generating refugees but less is known about refugees in D.R.Congo, therefore we need to work together for the visibility of refugees in the country and highlight their changes where we need more actors to come in order to support, 3. The need to help Congolese refugees in various countries in the world to have access to true information about the current situation in D.R.Congo so that they can make informed decisions about their future, 4. Get the views of CNR of daily challenges faced by refugees in North Kivu, 5. To create opportunities for refugees around the world to link with others in D.R.Congo, On the first issue the CNR was not much informed about the movement of refugees or asylum seekers from D.R.Congo who move to other countries in order to seek asylum, but also said that there is nothing much the country can do to force them to stay here, and that it was regrettable that they do register as Congolese in other countries. We reminded CNR that the cause of their movement is that they are not protected in D.R.Congo and they are not given the minimum services they need. CNR suggested that more should be done in order to understand better this situation and come up with appropriate responses but also pointed out the diversity of foreigners in DRCongo as many may not be recognized refugees by CNR. However he indicated that it was the responsibility of refugees to come to CNR and seek for services and it is not the work of CNR to go and fetch for asylum seekers. In this he pointed out some factors which might have caused the failure to respond to the needs of refugees mainly: Political, security and financial. This left us wondering about the need to bring services to people where they are? On Political issues we presented the position of the current political leadership in D.R.Congo current which is officially committed to the rule of the law, the statement and commitment of President Felix Tshisekedi in Addis-Abbeba in 2019 during the African Union meeting where he committed his government to respect all international instruments on refugees, but also observed that the slogan “the rule of the law” is not yet felt among refugees in Goma. Looking at the regional politics especially Rwanda, we have observed that Rwanda is more intolerant against refugees who are opposed either military or through political groups to President Paul Kagame but not necessary to these peasants and common people who are not so much in politics. And various actors at International Community are favorable for an effective protection of these refugees but not much have been by actors on the ground. Examples were drawn from the refugee status determination process where some are denied refugee status, others deported back especially South Sudanese, Ethiopians and Somalis because according to him they do not meet the criteria of being granted a refugee status, the issue of those who have waited for more than 7 to 9 years up to now they are still waiting for the refugees status, on this he said that there is a need for advocacy at the Refugee Eligibility Committee, and those who are rejected and have no option for appeal, on this he said that refugees have right to appeal against any decision but maybe they do not know about it. We suggested to have common actions to ensure that refugees are fully informed about this. But also to ensure that all asylum seekers are fully treated and given fair attention especially those who are deported to should be given opportunity to contact a lawyer, which we are willing to provide. On the second point: In most cases about the issue of grant of refugee status, CNR argued about the sovereignty to choose who to grant the refugee status and who to reject. But also CNR seems to forget about the international conventions which DRCongo is signatory and which takes away the sovereignty of the country. Currently there three categories of refugees in D.R.Congo especially in Goma: Prima faci (these came in 1994) many among them are not even recognized by CNR because no one has ever taken services to them where they are scattered in D.R.Congo. These ones are not granted humanitarian assistance, CNR suggested that those who need the services should come to Goma and be recognized by the CNR first, the second category is those who are recognized but do not get humanitarian assistance, on this CNR said that the problem is more the lack of money, and the competing priorities, the degree of vulnerability and the number of years a refugee has stayed in D.R.Congo to the point that they may not need humanitarian services anymore, in short the assistance is subjected to criteria, and that alone is a huge challenge in the refugee protection process, why should there be criteria for humanitarian assistance to the person in need? But also how can in a country of human rights refugees are given papers that indicate that they do not right to humanitarian assistance. Those granted refugee status on individual merit in most cases these also are granted humanitarian assistance and Identification Cards and they seem to have less problems than the first category. Then those who have waited for so many years in order to be given an answer about their refugee status, CNR indicated that they do get some forms of assistance especially those who are arrested, but also the problem is not CNR but the Eligibility Committee. On this issues of a refugee camp located at 150bkm from the border was raised and again CNR believe that this is more an issue of sovereignty of the state, but also there no conditions which can motivate the camp such as influx of refugees. We argued that there are no security reasons which can justify such denial because Rwanda hunts specific categories of refugees, and through Internally Displaced camps in D.R.Congo we have observed that both the United Nations Missions and the Congolese Army have been able to provide security to IDPs so even a refugee camp will be also secured. We still need more convincing answers why we do not have refugee camps in North Kivu, who benefits from this and what is the interests of D.R.Congo to leave refugees on their own. But also CNR pointed out the issue of financial support and argued that donors always claim about “fatigue”. We believe that the international community has a duty to journey with D.R.Congo in its efforts to ensure the protection of refugees who are on the Congolese territory now, this is part of responsibility sharing. This s another point for strong advocacy. On the issue of durable solutions mainly (resettlement, local integration, and voluntary repatriation) CNR indicated that the Government of D.R.Congo is responsible for two solutions: Local Integration, the CNR has supported those who wish to acquire the Congolese Citizenship and it is still willing to do so but very few refugees take this option. And the country is much promoting the voluntary repatriation because for many refugees the causes why they ran away ceased to exist, especially for young people low 35 five years, but we seem to forget that these people have nothing to do with their country and the only thing they know is D.R.Congo. This is another issue of advocacy especially that a big number of refugees in North Kivu were once repatriated but they came back and especially that repatriation is often used a political tool in favor of the government of Rwanda. The last solution of resettlement is mainly for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and CNR has nothing to do with it. On the issue of those with guns he clearly and categorically rejected any grace period for them, the only option for them is to be taken back to their country and these cannot be granted a refugee status. This is yet another issue of advocacy in order to change this radical position and much unrealistic but also less human. The best option may be amnesty to all those refugees who have guns and then ensure their protection. D.R.Congo under DDR should put in place a grace period for all those who have guns to put them down and claim for a refugee status. On the issue of Traveling documents the CNR is always ready to give these documents to those who need them, and the CNR can also grant a refugee status to another person who has been a refugee in another country basing on the case. Challenges The CNR is also faced with so many challenges mainly the lack of funding, the bureaucracy especially when it is the line Ministries to take decisions, CNR can only implement what has been decided but it does not have to change things, Way forward The CNR is ready to work with us within the prescribed limits of the law, and requested us to write to them formally either in terms of information or in terms of partnership, being a human rights organization we are more comfortable with wring in terms of information, After that, we can engage on more other things especially at the daily operational levels and carry out some activities of common interest together such as information sessions, To engage with various authorities in order to highlight the need to support refugees in line with responsibility sharing, And any other support we need from CNR as long as it is legal and does not put in danger the protection of refugees, In brief for the CNR to change so many things there should a strong directive from the Minister especially in terms of perception, policies and activities. That is where more advocacy also should take place while at the local levels there will be a lot of information sessions and trainings among various stakeholders on the issues of refuges but also to advocate for adequate funding from the donors. Thanks Jackson Baguma Regional Coordinator