Summery of Sunday April 18th, 2021 briefing meetings with refugees in Goma, North Kivu, D.R.Congo held at our office
As part of our Communication Strategic Plan aiming at information sharing in order to enhance the protection space to refugees we have put in place our very first activity called “Briefing Meetings to refugees”.
The meeting started at 2:30 pm at our office and was heavily attended by refugees. This remains the very first attempt put in place aiming at helping refugees to be fully informed in order to make informed decisions and choices, this is also a space for all those who have messages to pass through to refugees.
About the participants
More than 70 people attended the meeting and because the room was full it was not easy to record all those who attended, only 58 registered in our book on the attendance list. We also observed the failure to adhere to COVID19 guidelines because of the space, we intend to have only 30 participants in our meetings but others are coming each single day and we may not manage to send them away. Efforts are being done to divide them in five groups (men, women, the elderly, young boys and young girls)
The majority of the participants are women at about 60%, men represented 30% there was increase of young people mostly young men and only one young girl. We also observed the participation of Burundian refugees in numbers including their opinion leaders.
Feedback from refugees who were referred to CNR, Airtel and Orange, and to UNHCR,
Feedback from GRLF on the issues of registration of refugees,
Feedback from the Urban Refugee Committee on their meeting with UNHCR,
Issues at hand,
The opening prayer was done by a volunteer among the participants,
Minute Two: On the COVID19 money distributed by UNHCR Goma
Some refugee reported that they received their COVID19 money while others have not yet received it up to now. Those refugees whom we referred to CNR went there but they could not see the officer in-charge because he was in meetings. They were advised to be there this week but also to contact UNHCR on this issue of the COVID19 money to refugees. We made this as one among our priorities and so far we observe positive progress and it is our hope that all refugees in urban will get their money. We highly regret that urban refugees in Nyiragongo were not considered among those who should benefit from this support and that so many refugees who are categorized “not active in the system” where left out. We are going to write a letter to UNHCR to request the review that decision which was made and put options for those excluded.
Minute Three: On the issue Communication Companies
Refugees we sent there to renew, replace or buy SimCards were refused to do so using their refugee identification mainly the family attestation. The companies which are concerned are mainly Airtel and Orange, which are mostly used by refugees. However it is also better to note that refugees who have identification cards do not have this problem, we remain not sure why refugees do not have identification Cards. In our meeting with CNR they argued that the refugee attestation is also very fine and that the problem remains on the awareness, CNR was vague on why some refugees have IDs and others only have “refugee family attestation”. We intend to send our team to engage with Airtel and Orange on this issue and hope that we shall have an answer in our next meeting on Sunday but also continue engaging with UNHCR and CNR on issuing refugee cards to all refugees.
Minute Four: Feedback from our meeting with CNR
During last week we engaged with various officers at the Congolese Commission for Refugees known as CNR on the following issues:
The registration of new asylum seekers: We were told that CNR doors are opened for new asylum seekers, and this was communicated to refugees yesterday in our meeting. CNR only has issues with asylum seekers who do not tell them truth in their statements which results to reject and deportation for some people. We remain available to offer legal advice to asylum seekers and our offices are opened for this, we do record their statements, prepare them psychologically for the interview and share with them provisions of the law.
Rwandan refugees: This was also raised and CNR is also granting refugee status to Rwandan Refugees under the category of “prime faci” and this was also shared to all refugees who attended our meeting yesterday and we referred them to CNR as we wait for a feed back in our next meeting. Those who are concerned about this are refugees who came in the period between (1994 –1998), which assumes that all Rwandan refugees are result of wars, which is not the fact on ground. We remain concerned about such arrangements and we shall engage the authorities for a fairer hearing process in place.
Verification: On the issue of those who missed the 2018 refugee varication, CNR is also available to verify them, this also was communicated to refugees during the meeting yesterday, but they have to write a letter justifying why they missed the verification. We remain available for any advice and orientation to refugees who would wish it from us.
Those who want either to add or to remove a family members in their file should wait because CNR claims it does not the needed financial support to do this and the only hope may be during the next verification exercise which is likely to happen this year 2021.
The refugee family attestation issued by CNR and UNHCR indicates that “the grant of the refugee status does not guarantee automatically the right to humanitarian relief aid” and refugees indicated that they had to sign that they will not be granted relief aid in order to get the attestation. We are still waiting for a suitable opportunity in order to engage both UNHCR and CNR on this especially to find out why did it happen that way and if it is still being implemented, how does it improve the protection of refugees and what is the UNHCR and CNR interests in that policy. This is one among the practices which are not consistent with the legal frameworks which we are concerned about and we remain wondering why is UNHCR part of these practices which deprive refugees from their rights and which reduce protection opportunities to many.
About access to health
We continued our campaign to inform refugees about two centers which we visited and which offer services to refugees without discrimination as long as they are registered by UNHCR and CNR. None of them reported about any problem and we continue following up this. We reiterated our view and strongly reject the current health care approach to refugees in place which violates refugee rights to health care, does not have measures for prevention and leaves out critical situations which should attract all our attention. We intend to engage with UNHCR on this point and especially the exclusion of so many refugees who are not able to access the health care services.
Minute Five: Briefings from the chairperson of Urban Refugees in Goma
The chairperson briefed refugees about their meeting whi her team had with UNHCR which rotated on basic services ( health care, education, security and shelter and food) but also the participation of refugees in decision making process.
In her presentation she indicated that UNHCR Goma argued about the process of the “secession clause” to Rwandan which is likely to be put in place and in that process UNHCR Goma claimed to put in place existing measures in order to help refugees to get used to what they will face when they are taken back to their country especially Rwanda where they will have to live on their own. We are so much concerned that the so called “secession clause which is more of political tool can be as an excuse to violate refugee rights in Goma. We are yet to engage UNHCR Goma in this when time allows in two weeks from now.
Refugees were also informed about the visit to Goma by the UNHCR High Commissioner for Refugees who is supposed to be in Kinshasa on Tuesday April 20th and in Goma of Friday April 23rd, refugees were informed that only the members of the leadership committee will be allowed by the UNHCR to meet him, but also other two refugees informed the participants that they have secured an appointment with him on their private arrangements. After discussions participants agreed to suggest key issues of focus which will be put into an open letter addressed to him and also a committee was put in place to draft the letter which will be taken by the team. As organization we pledged to offer them a space where they work from, a laptop which they can use, and some money to buy soft drinks to the participants.
The key issues which were suggested include:
The vulnerability of refugees towards the security deterioration in North Kivu/ DRCongo, the protection of refugees, some have been assassinated and others ran away towards Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia and Malawi among others, the discrimination and exclusion being observed against Rwandan refugees, UNHCR and CNR staffs who are perceived as Rwandan on the service of the Rwandan Government, forced repatriation, silence on sexual violence against refugees, the question of residence of refugees which is too hear the borders of their countries of origin, refugee documents not being considered by Congolese authorities especially security services, arbitrary arrests of refugees, and refugees being assimilated or related to Rwandan Armed Groups in DRCongo and as part of those who aggress Congo and killed so many people, sexual exploitation of refugees by some UNHCR and CNR staffs in favor of services, the lack of humanitarian relief aid, to transfer UNHCR and CNR staffs who have been in the system for long, the question on Rwandan security services in eastern DRCongo, attacks against Rwandan refugees in so many parts in the country, implementation of the existing policies towards refugees, and review the promises made by the former UNHCR Boss during his visit in Goma in 2011 which included (access to resettlement, humanitarian relief aid, and punishment to UNHCR agents who have abused refugees), and the issue of vocal refugees who are blacklisted and blackmailed by UNHCR and CNR and their implementing partners.
The contentious issue is that most of vocal refugee leaders are left out and have no options to interact with the UNHCR Boss and this makes them wonder about the outcome of such a visit which only makes him listen to his people telling him the same things. We encouraged those who whish can write letters and we shall look for the email address of the UNHCR High Commissioner and share it with refugees in Goma so that they send their letters, but also our website is available for their information.
Minute Six: Individual cases
Individual cases were raised and appointments were given to each person to come to the office for proper management,
The issue of marriages between refugees and Congolese was also raised and we gave some light on this but more is still needed in order to help those in such situation,
Leaders of the three groups we put in place (women, youth, men) were to remain behind for a briefing, the team that was chosen to write a letter to UNHCR boss had also to remain behind,
We updated the participants about measures of the curfew and house search being put in place by the Governor of North Kivu as a response to the current insecurity, we advised all those who do not have the documents to report to the CNR we also circulated a message which reached some refugees,
The meeting ended at 5:30pm with a prayer and the next meeting is on Sunday April 25th, 2021 at 2pm.
GRLF/ Humanite Plus