Key facts about refugees in Eastern D.R.Congo particularly in North Kivu including Goma. In order to share accurate information to various actors which will help people to make informed decisions and choices, we have proposed this document of general situation of refugees. Background about refugees in Eastern D.R.Congo Refugees have existed in D.R.Congo since time memorial, but there is no clear information about when the first category of refugees came in the country and this remains one among the areas of research. The group of refugees which is known are those who came from Rwanda in 1959 and who are generally armed on ground that they want naturalization in D.R.Congo. But also others continued to come from Burundi, and Rwanda in 1965, 1994 and 1998 up to now. They are allow being hosted in the Greater Kivu Province which includes (North Kivu, South Kivu and Maniema). For long D.R.Congo did not have neither a domestic policy nor a national structure which should ensure the management of refugees, as everything was left on the shoulders of the International Community headed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which could not do much to ensure the protection of refugees during the situations of conflicts and wars, and this led refugees to come up with their own ways of surviving. This has been a cause of so many problems in refugee host communities and the cause of some security problems affecting the whole country now. The key problems are more connected to conflicts and wars caused by refugees who have guns in the country as part of different militia groups, but much as it known how refugees have been a problem to D.R.Congo, there is no much information how the host communities have been a problem to refugees and how refugees have contributed to the development of the country and the well-being of the host communities. This needs more a research work in order to put the situation into real perspective. The Congolese domestic law on Refugees Since 2002 D.R.Congo put in place a domestic law which was drawn from the International frameworks on refugees, it is not necessary a Congolese law on refugees but the demystification of the International law mainly the 1951 United Nations Convention on refugees, and then also put in place the Congolese National Commission for Refugees commonly known as (C.N.R) which is the structure in charge of daily management of refugees in the country. CNR is currently operating in most of the areas which host refugees and which are considered as entry points for refugees much as this structure in confronted to so many challenges which need to be addressed in order to make if more effective to respond to each situation of refugees. The first efforts which should be done in order to help refugees in the country is to make CNR more effective, but also the country has the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees commonly known as UNHCR which is to support the government in the refugee protection process, and also various international humanitarian organizations which offer their services in various domain. What is lacking are mainly human rights organizations both local and international to monitor refugee rights abuses, Congolese local organizations, the religious organizations and the private sector in order to help refugees to live better and to be well protected in D.R.Congo. There is still also a challenge to make operational the Congolese law on refugees because since it was made it has not been implemented on contrary we observe unlawful practices which surround the management of refugees and this also are the cause of so many problems to refugees. Statistics The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that D.R.Congo host 550,000 refugees by December 2020. But these statistics are much far from the reality given the fact that UNHCR is not in contact with thousands of refugees in the country, most of them are not known neither by UNHCR nor by the CNR and are not registered. Basing on UNHCR statistics indicate that 3,018 refuges are living in Goma but estimations indicate that there are more than 10,000 refugees in Goma and the biggest number of them are living in Nyiragongo which is one among the Divisions of Goma. The issue of refugee statistics in Congo remains one among urgent problems we must quickly resolve in order to ensure that each person is identified and known by UNHCR and CNR. We believe that it is not strategic for the country to host people who are not known and who remain invisible yet they exist. UNHCR does estimate more than 70,000 refugees in North Kivu but we believe that North Kivu alone hosts more than 250,000 among them more than 80% have never been identified. We also estimate that D.R.Congo hosts more than one million refugees and asylum seekers and that each person should be well identified. Place of residence for Refugees in D.R.Congo Despite the fact that the international law recommends that refugees should be placed at 150 km from the borders of their country of origin in a Refugee Camp, the country has not yet respected that law which is also part of the Congolese law on refugees. In some provinces such as North Kivu, South Kivu and Maniema there are no refugee camps and this is the violation of the law. The failure to have a refugee camp in North Kivu is the origin of so many problems and the mere creation of a refugee camp will solve many problems including security issues. There is an urgent need then to help this country to understand the urgent need to create refugee camps especially in the greater Kivu far from the borders of their country of origin. Humanitarian Assistance Thousands of refugees in D.R.Congo especially those in the East in North Kivu particularly do not have access to humanitarian relief aid despite the fact that areas where they are living are well known and despite the fact that the needs of these refugees are well known. Their urgent needs include: Food, shelter, medical care, education and Income Generating Activities. The high presence of humanitarian organizations in North Kivu has not yet been fully capitalized in order to look into refugee matters, most of the organizations are focusing on Internally Displaced Persons, and yet so many refugees live alongside IDPs where so many organizations operate from but they remain excluded from support. Cohabitation with the host communities In most cases host communities do not have information about refugees and do not know who is a refugee and who is not, and this does not offer them opportunity to know how they can ensure their protection. That alone constitutes the basis for massive refugee rights abuses and does require urgent interventions. But also refugees remain highly ignorant about their rights and obligations in the host country which also has led to massive violations of host communities’ rights by refugees and this is the cause of various tensions and conflicts between the two. There is a need for the promotion of activities aiming at conflicts resolution, peaceful cohabitation in refugee host communities. The grant of the refugee status The CNR is responsible for the grant of the refugee status to each person who is seeking asylum in D.R.Congo based on established criteria but the process is characterized by various abuses which makes hard for many to get the refugee status, many refugees have waited for more than 10 years and others do not know what happened to their applications, cases of those deported without due process remain common. CNR should be well supported in order to do her work and that support should focus on training a human resource, financial support, a strong political will and adequate security measures in place. Refugees should be part of the Congolese Diplomacy The question of refugees in D.R.Congo should be inclusive on the Agenda of the Congolese Diplomatic Mission which should focus on mobilizing the International Community to support all efforts deployed by the country in line with the responsibility sharing in order to ensure the protection of all refugees, as mandated by the international law and in line with international solidarity with the refugee host country. The Congolese Diplomacy should lobby for the involvement of all actors as one among the means for stability in the east of the country but also point out clearly that receiving refugees in D.R.Congo is a humanitarian gesture towards the person and should not be political. Durable solutions to refugees in D.R.Congo The international law does recognize three durable solutions to the refugee problems and because D.R.Congo is signatory to this law especially Geneva 1951 Convention, the country should put in place all these three solutions in order to fulfil her obligations. Local Integration : even if the CNR claims that there are mechanisms in place to facilitate the local integration of refugees in D.R.Congo and to acquire the Congolese citizenship, refugees remain highly ignorant about such arrangement, the Congolese citizenship is highly a political tool and does not facilitate the neither the debate nor the process. This has forced refugees to use other copying mechanism through fraud in order to acquire documents and live the same way as Congolese. More efforts are much needed to bring on table the question of local integration and what can it mean at this particular time. Voluntary Repatriation: D.R. Congo has for long promoted and actually made priority the repatriation of refugees to their countries of origin, but unfortunately the process has never been voluntary and has been marked by abuses which violate international law. There is a need to help the country to ensure that repatriation is in line with the law, in its form of voluntary repatriation. In some situations refugees and asylum seekers have been repatriated by force in their countries of origin where they fear about their lives, this should be discouraged and be replaced by the promotion of only voluntary repatriation. But a big number of refugees in D.R.Congo are some among those who were once repatriated by force but they managed to come back. Resettlement of the Third Country: This process is where UNHCR identifies cases of refugees who are in need of special protection measures and then send them to developed countries, it is one among the appropriate solutions to refugee problems in eastern D.R.Congo but it is mostly ignored and not given attention by UNHCR for reasons which remain unclear. There is a need to mobilize UNHCR to promote the resettlement programme in order to respond to the protection needs of so many refugees in Congo and that alone is a solution to many problems affecting refugees currently in the country. The security problems for refugees Thousands of refugees in eastern D.R.Congo live in areas which do not have measures for security in order to ensure their protection, in many cases they are victims of exclusions and discrimination by local security structures. There is a need to mobilize local authorities at various levels to extend security measures to refugees in their areas. Certain refugees are victims of threats from Rwandan Security Services which kidnap, and kill some refugees but also refugees are victims from various forms of arrests and illegal detentions from Congolese security services, the most feared are ANR, DGM, and T2, many refugees are also unfairly sentenced by courts of law and the mere fact of being a refugee does dictate the sentence to many years in prisons. It is almost impossible for a refugee to access to a legal representation because this service does not exist. Conclusion The struggle for the protection of refugees in North Kivu D.R.Congo is urgent and does require the involvement of everyone at each level. The protection of refugees is one among the solutions to peace and stability in North Kivu and structures such as the Civil Society, Media, Religious Institutions, private sector, the Congolese Government, Development Partners, and the entire International Community should be involved and only push for the protection of refugees. The protection of refugees in D.R.Congo is more benefiting all those who are engaged in peace and the end of insecurity in the east part of the country. Slogan: « Refugees are not the problem but refugees have problems ». Philippe K. MASTAKI, Coordonnateur National