Monthly briefing: March 2021 on the progress of our activities towards refugees in eastern DRCongo

A refugee family in Mugunga in Goma D.R.Congo/ Photo taken on March 30th, 2021 by our Team in Bugunga   DRCONGO OUGHT TO BE A BETTER PLACE FOR EACH REFUGEE REFUGEES IN EASTERN DRCONGO SOLVING REFUGEE PROBLEMS IN EASTERN DRCONGO IS KEY FOR PEACE This report comes in a particular situation when which refugees are mainly a target and victims, in a situation where it is still hard to notice what UNHCR and the Government are doing for refugees if it does exist. On one had we observed the mismatch between UNHCR which believes that refugees have access to all available support and aid and that they should be able to know where they get aid from, and on the other hand the refugees are not being able to define the kind of support they get neither from UNHCR nor from her implementing partners, but also the CNR which is the government claiming not being in charge of humanitarian relief aid, the section of the Congolese people who believe that refugees are the cause of the current instability in East and that they should be taken back to their countries and then the politicization of the refugees by various actors who use refugees as a stool to achieve what they want, and lastly refugees who remain unknown and who can defend themselves. We remain so much concerned by choices and decisions which were made against refugees in eastern D.R.Congo over the years which criminalize relief aid to refugees, measures of protection to refugees and durable solutions to refugees remain unclear and we still wonder if they do exist. Such choices and decisions left refugees with few options and this could have exposed them to easy recruitment into armed groups, and exposed to current forced repatriation which is brandished to them as the only solution, the illegal exploitation of natural resources and the ongoing insecurity observed in Eastern D.R.Congo. One among our struggle is to ensure that refugees in DRCongo are not used as a political tool for political interests. Weekly meetings with refugees We continued our weekly briefing meetings with refugees in Goma, the meetings are held every Sunday at 2pm at our offices in Kituku is highly attended by various refugees with whom we have managed to develop the following points for advocacy and also have managed to help other refugees to know more about their rights and the violation of their rights especially by those in charge of their welfare. But also these meetings are helping refugees to know more about their obligations, abide with the law, foster co-existence, provide accurate information, challenge the myths and stereotypes and promote solidarity among themselves. The six points refugees have suggested as priorities are for our advocacy: 1. Visibility of refugees in eastern D.R.Congo: There is a deliberate move to ensure that refugees in eastern D.R.Congo remain invisible, their needs are either invisible or denied to exist, and what happens to them invisible, such approach which seems to be well maintained by the refugee regime may benefits more the political interests of the International Community which will never claim responsibility over those refugees in terms of humanitarian relief aid and durable solutions, the Rwandan government which does not want the world to know about these refugees, and UNHCR which will never be asked to account about these refugees. But also this leaves no options to refugees in order to survive and exposes them various criminal activities. Our work is to change this narrative now and call upon all actors to be more responsible towards these refugees. 2. Solidarity and unity of refugees: In order to manipulate them the regime created various scenarios to maintain refugees divided, and ensure that they do not work together basing on their status (some say they are true refugees and others are fake Rwandan refugees are considered as fake ones and to make things worse most of them do not have access to the available assistance), their country of origin (Refugees from Rwanda cannot mix together with refugees from Burundi, because those from Burundi believe they are the true refugees), their ethnicity ( we do observe the failure of refugees to collaborate basing on the fact that they are Hutus or they Tutsi, and their social position (this is based on clear argue about their needs and the solutions to their problems, while refugees in urban are more focused on urban solutions they do not consider much those in rural areas and those who are in rural areas feel like they are abandoned by their fellow in town who can easily interact with UNHCR and the International Community). We are now focusing on helping refugees to work together despite their diversity and help them to appreciate each other rather than looking at others as enemies. 3. Interventions on behalf of urgent needs: So far cases we are getting which needs our interventions are connected to those who are sick and have been denied assistance to pay for the medical bills just because they are living in a certain place, those with issues at the Police and conflicts among individuals at the community levels. We visited all those who reported these problems to us and all cases are being followed up. Some cases have been solved after our follow up and others are not yet, because of our failure to make regular follow ups due to limited human resources and financial constrain. 4. To advocate for all refugees to access humanitarian relief aid (food, shelter, health care, education, security and Income Generating Activity). Currently we are collecting information, building up contacts, understand why UNHCR does not offer relief aid to refugees, and analyze the consequences, the interests and the actors. We believe we have a general idea about this problem and we are ready to confront it, the next step is to continue with research and identifying partners who can join us in this advocacy. Basing on our interactions with various actors there is a need of strong evidence based research in order to challenge the lack of humanitarian relief aid to refugees. We remain open to partners who can help us to challenge this practice on ground. 5. Promoting all possible durable solutions to refugees (local integration, voluntary repatriation, resettlement to the third country, and other development options). So far none of these is in place as refugees as left with one option to camouflage as Congolese by acquiring the voter’s card, this does not help in solving the problems and we discouraging refugees from such copying mechanism. We are opposed to what is being done that seems to be like “forced repatriation “of refugees back to Rwanda “. Unfortunately which is also at the center of so many tensions among refugees and even the host communities. Areas which need research indicate that a big number of refugees in eastern Congo were once repatriated by forced in the past, and that some among those repatriated are again are again trained in Rwandan army and then deployed in Eastern D.R.Congo to form armed groups supported by Rwanda in Eastern Congo, a considerable number of refugees in eastern D.R.Congo were once repatriated in the past and they are being accused of coming back because they want more money in case they ask for repatriation, and to find out why are others being forced or not to go back. All these issues need research in order to help DRCongo to do better and improve. 6. Promotion of Refugee Rights: We are engaged in the exercise to empower refugees about their rights and also the various mechanisms to claim their rights. Our approach is to ensure that refugees are not mere dormant victims but they should be active in finding out adequate solutions to their problems, make clear demands, think critically and do participate in the whole decision making process. Through our engagement every Sunday in our meeting we are briefing refugees about their rights and obligations in this country but also show them what they can do. Many have been fully informed about “who is a refugee” and how to lose the refugee status, what a refugee can do and what a refugee cannot do. But also we are looking at the protection mainly at the security, why refugees feel they are not safe and how they can improve their security.

ADMINSITRATION On top of the above we also worked on various administrative issues such as the office, looking for other places where we can have big meetings from, administrative meetings, working on a work-plan, contact building and connections in order to solve other administrative issues. We visited two churches and the Pastors gave us opportunity to talk about refugees to the congregation and explained the situation of refugees. Some of reactions of people pointed out on negative perception towards refugees who are viewed as rebels and then ignorance of who is a refugee and who is not because it is difficult to know them but also quick solution to deport them back to their countries of origin. Such reactions seem to be attributed to crimes which were committed by people from either Rwanda or Burundi and in that any person who is from these two countries is viewed as criminal. We also visited Three political parties represented in Goma and discussed with them about refugees among them gave us opportunity to talk to members and still political parties think that refugees are the cause of the current insecurity in Eastern D.R.Congo and even at the leadership level of political parties it is difficult to make a difference between a refugee and a migrant. We got this opportunity to engage with them on their roles to ensure that refugees are not a problem in this country. This refugee old woman stays in Mugunga, she wonders how dangerous she is for the security of this country, which kind of support can she still give to rebels if that is the excuse why they are not being considered for aid relief. Our whatsup Group has seen the increase of members among the Congolese who are interested in refugee issues and want to take a positive move and vocal refugees who want to understand their current situation. This group is an advocacy and information sharing on refugee issues in eastern Congo. For those who wish to join us, please contact us on +256758197767. We published through Emails Two Alerts on the situation of refugees in D.R.Congo which were circulated to more than 500 emails of various people and organizations around the world. But also shared some reactions on our Feceboks and whatusp, our message against the proposed joint military operations between D.R.Congo and Rwanda attracted the reactions of more than 200 people who contacted us on our whatsup number. While more than 85% of the reactions were against these said military operations, 10% support these operations and 10% were messages of threatening us against engaging on such sensitive issue. Our office remains opened because of efforts by the volunteers who are available to be there and serve refugees who come. Refugees continued to come for various reasons, three books for daily registration were donated by a volunteer and then a promise for a website was made. We also kept in contact with the Congolese Commission for Refugees (CNR), the UNHCR Goma through emails, on phone and on whatsup on the situation of refugees and various refugee leaders based in Goma. In reaction to one of our emails, UNHCR extended COVID19 money to refugees in Goma especially those who did not get and who had waited for long and in vain. Visits to Tout Dieu est Grace Health Center This health center receives hundreds of refugees every week and once there, refugees have so many challenges mainly: poverty: Because of misery some refugees do not manage to afford transport to come and to go back, to have food in order to continue with medication, sickness with are not covered in their budget of 25$ per refugee and the policy issue which limits some refugees in some areas to access treatment just because they are from areas which are excluded by UNHCR. Preparation to visit rape victims: International Women’s Day Refugee women victims of rape remain unknown despite the fact that D.R.Congo made a lot of efforts to expose acts of rape against women, most of report seem to leave out refugee women, but also at the same time no one knows even about refugee men victims of rape and all other sexual abuses. In order to highlight this problem we proposed a field visit to these refugee women, we are making financial contributions and we are so much delighted to inform you that refugees themselves have so far contributed 30$ USA. This activity is in line with the International Women’s Day 2021. This is one among refugees who are victims of rape in mugunga Goma, at the age of 17 years she was raped and she is now HIV positive. This is her home where stays, that is her bed where she sleeps and that is how she cooks her food. In case you wish to join us and support our work or this visit, simple donate through Mobile Money +243973704159 or send us un email on: Opportunities The existence of high concentration of refugees in North Kivu – D.R.Congo gives opportunities to have a wider vison, The current political space which gives freedoms to people in Congo does favors to even work on critical and sensitive issues like that of refugees in Eastern Congo, We remain the only organization looking at advocacy on refugee rights based in Goma/ D.R.Congo, The various refugee problems which need our attention and our position in the tourist capital city in D.R.Congo, The accessibility to our offices by most of refugees in many parts of Goma through public means, The experience team which has a wider knowledge on refugee issues from the policies to the service delivery and a critical analytical mind, with a clear view on regional politics, Challenges Most of the challenges we have currently are highly connected to financial limitations in order to acquire a big office which can accommodate more refugee meetings, and with a big space which can host many refugees, The space where some refugees who have nowhere to go can sleep as they work on their solutions, Food for those who come hungry at the office and the need to offer food for those in critical conditions when we visit in their respective communities, Lack of transport in order to follow up refugee cases at various levels, Lack of office furniture to accommodate the current needs we have at the office, Lack of partners as we are the only ones who are starting everything for refugees and everything we are doing is new, therefore nothing to inspire us or to refer to, Ignorance of refugees and divisions among refugees, and many refugees suffer psychological problems and are highly traumatized by so many situations, Yours sincerely Kackson Baguma Ntamuzinda Regional Coordinator Global Refugee Leaders Forum/ Humanite Plus- Goma DRCongo